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'Do the Opposite Thing You Did 18 Months Ago': EPA Staffers on the Agency in the Trump Era

Two dozen former and current employees at the Environmental Protection Agency describe dysfunction under Scott Pruitt.

This story was produced by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization in Washington, DC.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt doesn’t hide his contempt for how the agency has been run, but he does profess to care about one of its key programs: Superfund, which oversees the cleanup of the nation’s worst toxic waste sites. In April, he toured a site in East Chicago, Indiana, contaminated with lead and arsenic, and told residents, “We are going to get this right.”

The following month, Pruitt — Oklahoma’s attorney general before he joined the EPA — tapped one of his former donors, banker Albert “Kell” Kelly, to find ways to accelerate and improve Superfund cleanups. Kelly started by consulting career staff members — often knowledgeable officials who work at the agency regardless of who holds the White House. But then Kelly closed off the process, conferring with Pruitt to produce a final plan that altered or excluded many of the staffers’ suggestions. Gone, for example, was the idea that EPA officials be identified early on to lead discussions with communities on how contaminated land should be used after cleanup.

“We’re missing a huge opportunity to do something new and different with Superfund,” said one of two EPA employees who described the process to the Center for Public Integrity on the condition of anonymity.

What happened with Superfund is hardly an anomaly. Today’s EPA is wracked with internal conflict and industry influence and is struggling to fulfill its mission, according to more than two dozen current and former agency employees.

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