Trump EPA Transition Team Lacks Expertise on Chemicals, Water

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By Tiffany Stecker

President-elect Donald Trump’s landing team at the Environmental Protection Agency includes some of the Obama administration’s biggest foes on climate and energy policy.

But what appears to be absent from the nine members of the EPA transition team is any background in chemicals, pesticides, water pollution, and other policy areas where the agency enforces environmental laws to control contamination and protect public health.

By way of comparison, President Barack Obama’s energy and natural resources transition team had “a broad mix of expertise,” said Robert Sussman, the co-chair of the Obama transition team in 2008 who later joined the EPA as a senior policy adviser.

“These areas were a significant focus of our transition report, in addition to air and climate,” Sussman told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail. He named former EPA water chief Chuck Fox, President Ronald Reagan’s associate administrator Joe Cannon, and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection policy adviser Michelle DePass as examples.

Myron Ebell, who leads Trump’s EPA landing team, is a well-known skeptic of man-made climate change. Amy Oliver Cooke—one of the most recent additions to the team—built her career as a radio personality promoting energy independence and criticizing environmental regulations. David Schnare of the Energy and Environment Legal Institute has sought damaging information on climate scientists via the Freedom of Information Act.

These advisers, along with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the president-elect’s pick to head the agency, have advocated for a hands-off federal EPA that transfers power to the states.

While that approach might appease the heads of some energy and utility sectors, it could rankle industries that must comply with those decisions such as the pesticides and commercial chemicals sectors.

Pushing for Uniformity

Chemical and pesticide companies are among those that welcome the predictability that comes with federal regulations.

“The chemical industry worked really hard to insist and push for uniformity” in the recent update to the 1976 Toxics Substances Control Act, Jim Aidala, former EPA toxics chief under President Bill Clinton and now a consultant with Bergeson & Campbell PC, told Bloomberg BNA. They pushed for central federal authority so “they don’t have 50 different states regulating a product in 50 different ways,” he said.

Chemical manufacturers will see a number of new regulations under the June 22 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Pub. L. No. 114-182).

The Trump administration also will handle the implementation of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), which will expire on Sept. 30, 2017, and must be reauthorized by Congress. The law gives the EPA the legal authority to license pesticide makers and review the potential health and environmental risks of using pesticides.

Those regulations and the approval process provide certainty for pesticide registrants, said Rebeckah Adcock, senior director of government affairs for Crop Life America and an unofficial adviser to the transition team.

But there’s room for improvement within the Office of Pesticide Programs, which under Obama undertook a number of controversial stances, she said.

The EPA decided to consider epidemiological studies for its reassessment of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide linked to neurodevelopmental birth defects at sufficient levels of exposure. The pesticide industry, which rejects claims that the chemical has long-term effects on brain development, says that these types of population studies are less precise than laboratory studies on test animals.

“We will have to take issue with some of the broad-based policies and science that the OPP has taken on in the last few years,” she told Bloomberg BNA.

Those conversations are “going to be different than talking about the Office of Water and the Office of Air,” said Adcock, who sat on Trump’s agricultural advisory committee for his campaign.

Adcock said she had no opinion on the makeup of the EPA transition team. A transition spokesman did not immediate respond to a request for comment.

Reliance on States

Trump has targeted for repeal the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule, which clarifies which streams and wetlands fall under federal oversight. But other Clean Water Act issues may not be as prominent said Fredric Andes, a water attorney who is a partner in the Chicago and Washington D.C. offices of Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

It is not uncommon for a president-elect to choose a team based on his priorities—in this case, climate change and energy issues—rather than having someone cover each of the various programs, such as water or Superfund, Andes told Bloomberg BNA.

He said that Trump’s choice of Pruitt to lead the EPA may dictate the direction of programs within the agency. Oklahoma has substantial experience dealing with water shortages and reuse of water from oil and gas operations, said Claudio Ternieden, government affairs director for the Water Environment Federation.

The president-elect also made water infrastructure a central talking point in his campaign, calling for tripling the funds for the EPA’s State Revolving Fund loan program to help communities pay for upgrades.

If the Trump administration doesn’t show strong leadership in certain environmental areas, that leadership role may fall to states, said Jessica Dexter, staff attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“We’re going to have to rely a lot more on our states to uphold environmental regulations,” she told Bloomberg BNA.

States grappling with how to regulate coal ash from power plants, for example, may have an opportunity to develop strong permitting programs. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (S. 612), signed into law Dec. 16, allows states to develop their own programs to manage coal ash waste disposal that are at least as protective as federal rules.

“I don’t expect to see wild variations between the different state permitting programs … but it kind of remains to be seen,” Dexter said.

CEI’s Network

And while the transition team itself doesn’t have any policy experts beyond climate and energy, the Competitive Enterprise Institute—Ebell’s organization—does.

Angela Longomasini, a senior fellow at CEI, said she is not involved in the transition. But she has thoughts on how the new administration should handle her issues.

For one, Longomasini said she would like to see the EPA revise its standards for “reasonable certainty of no harm,” which she thinks has blocked necessary pesticides from approval.

“Those guys need tools on the ground to fight things like Zika,” she told Bloomberg BNA. “There’s fewer and fewer [of those tools] because the standard is so stringent.”

“Maybe the climate now politically is better and they can start looking at these things,” she said.

With assistance from Sylvia Carignan and Amena H. Saiyid

To contact the reporters on this story: Tiffany Stecker at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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