An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee stepped down after 30 years on the job last week with a letter to EPA chief Scott Pruitt that left no doubt the reason for his resignation—Pruitt's leadership and the Trump administration.
Michael Cox served as a climate change adviser to EPA's Region 10, covering Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. His resignation comes as President Donald Trump seeks to defund the agency by 31 percent, lay off 25 percent of its employees, and axe 56 programs—including two that focus on protecting children from lead—as revealed by a 64-page budget memo published last week by the Washington Post.
"I, along with many EPA staff, are becoming [increasingly] alarmed about the direction of EPA under your leadership," Cox wrote to Pruitt. "I have worked under six administrations with political appointees leading EPA from both parties. This is the first time I remember staff openly dismissing and mocking the environmental policies of an administration and by extension you."
"You will continue to undermine your credibility and integrity with EPA staff, and the majority of the public, if you continue to question this basic science of climate change," he wrote.
Post columnist Joe Davidson spoke with several EPA staffers throughout the country, who confirmed that the mood at the agency was grim—so much so that they requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
"It is pretty bleak," said one environmental engineer.
"It's in the dumps," said another.
Cox's letter continued:
I, and many staff, firmly believe the policies this administration is advancing are contrary to what the majority of the American people, who pay our salaries, want EPA to accomplish, which are to ensure the air their children [breathe] is safe; the land they live, play, and hunt on to be free of toxic chemicals; and the water they drink, the lakes they swim in, and the rivers they fish in to be clean.
[...] Good luck and just remember that EPA staff will respond to leadership that takes into account the science and the opinions of individuals who have devoted their entire lives to fulfilling the mission of EPA—to protect human health and the environment.
He outlined eight reasons that morale has plummeted at the agency, including Pruitt's denial of climate science—which he called "surprising, no shocking"—as well as the administration's antagonistic tone and "openly hostile" political appointees. Cox's final suggestion to Pruitt was simply, "Please step back and listen to EPA career staff."
"We understand that our positions may not always prevail, but please take the time to listen to expert voices that might differ from yours and your immediate staff," he wrote. "You may be surprised that you can find common ground on many issues. The health of the American people and our country depends on you."