As Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt formally announced this week that he plans to pull the plug on the Clean Power Plan, Frontline released a documentary titled War on the EPA, which details the Trump administration's concerted effort to cater to the fossil fuel industry's demands and roll back environmental regulations.
Among those interviewed for the film are Elizabeth "Betsy" Southerland, a 30-year EPA veteran who publicly resigned this summer and, so far, is the highest-ranking former staffer to speak out against the agency's operations under Pruitt, who was appointed by President Donald Trump and has been a key player in the administration's war on science.
"The atmosphere of EPA is really tense," Southerland said in the film. "What everyone is trying desperately to do is to hope against hope that their facts will change Scott Pruitt's mind—that they'll be special and they'll be able to convince the administrator not to go with whatever the industry people have asked him to do, and to give some deference to the science and engineering behind previous regulations."
Mere weeks after Southerland resigned from the agency, Pruitt announced the EPA had finalized plans to postpone a regulation she had worked on, which sought to prevent coal plants from dumping toxic chemicals in waterways. Pruitt's plans were immediately denounced by experts and conservationists, with the Center for Biological Diversity calling it "mind-bogglingly dangerous."
Rolling back that rule was just one of many moves by the Trump administration to implement an agenda that serves the coal, oil, and natural gas companies. Trump first visited EPA headquarters in late March, to sign an executive order directing the agency to rewrite the Clean Power Plan. During his speech at the agency, the president declared: "My administration is putting an end to the war on coal."
The film also features an interview with Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corporation, the largest coal company in the United States. Murray mentioned in the film that not only was he in the audience during Trump's March speech at EPA headquarters, but that the president acknowledged the coal baron when he vowed to "put our miners back to work."
"I would say that people were really devastated by that," Southerland said of Murray's attendance. "That it was considered to be, really, an open slap in our face."
"What it conveyed is, 'this is a hostile takeover.' You, the scientists and lawyers and engineers at the agency are no longer valued," added Eric Schaeffer, who led the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement for five years, and resigned from the agency in 2002, to protest attempts by then-President George W. Bush's administration to weaken federal clean air policy.
The full documentary can be viewed at Frontline's PBS webpage.