Insider reveals: How EPA employees resist from within
Thomas is in his early 30s and has been working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for eight years. His real name is not Thomas, he wants to remain anonymous. "I grew up in a family of environmentalists and came to the EPA because I believed in its cause", he says. And to him it has been the perfect job. Until now.
Scott is in his late 40s and a coal enthusiast. He feels skeptical towards the idea that mankind is responsible for climate change. And Scott is now the head of the EPA, Thomas' boss and that of about 17.000 other employees. The Republican Scott Pruitt is the antithesis to just about anything the EPA stood for in the past eight years.
It's still unclear, what exactly he will change. But the employees are bracing themselves for the worst.
Posters are covering the walls of one of the agency's offices. They read slogans like #freeamerica and "Respect my resistance or prepare for resistance". Anyone can download them for free from a website (Amplifier Foundation) that has focused on creative resistance ever since Donald Trump's inauguration. You catch glimpses of more and more offices like these when you walk through the halls of the agency, Thomas says to bento.
Talking to us means risking his job.
But he has more important things on his mind. As do his coworkers: "I'd say about 90 percent of the staff is opposed to the new administration. Even if they are not necessarily all anti-Trump, they are definitely anti-Pruitt", Thomas says. The morale dropped, people are scared of what comes next.
EPA staff is currently not allowed to speak to the press or the public. New research findings may not be published until reviewed by Trump's team. Those that have already been publicized are under scrutiny as well (Guardian). The outcome of which remains to be seen, but as one of Trump's senior aides, Myron Ebell, told the Guardian: climate education material might be changed or “withdrawn”.
The last time the EPA posted on Facebook was January 19th. One day before Trump became president. Since then: silence on social media. The so-called "gag" placed on the agency is in itself a standard procedure taken by every new administration as it transitions (Vox). Still, there are reasons to be worried:
During the campaign, Trump had pledged to completely revoke the agency. Although he won't be able to do just that, there's still his plan B: Scott Pruitt. His job being to weaken the agency from within. Trump found the right man for that.
As a lawyer, Pruitt has already sued the EPA 13 times in the past. Like the time he led the case against Obama's "Clean Power Plan" which is a path towards a cleaner energy system.
Some of the agency's policies are protected by law – like the clean water and clean air programs. But even those are not safe from budget cuts or changes of staff in crucial positions.
When Trump's transition team sent a questionnaire to the Department of Energy in early December, asking for the names of employees who had been involved in climate change research, the organization declined, saying: They won't reveal any identities of career staff if there is a chance this information could be used against the employees (Reuters). The EPA told its staff at the time, they would reply in the same way, should the question arise, Thomas says.
Together in times of turmoil
"The EPA has always been a good place to work", he says, because "there are a lot of people here who truly care about the agency's mission". That is now dramatically put to a test. "It feels like people are just holding their breath to see what happens next", Thomas says.
But in between the fear and the numbness, there is frantic activity.
Because now is the time to save what can be saved. Especially the research in climate change is severely threatened: "Many are currently working on transferring the research findings to servers outside of government control", says Thomas. Years and years of work and large amounts of data are at stake.
"Whatever happens, this needs to remain available to the public!", Thomas says.
Already in December, scientists had called for guerrilla action similar to what is happening at the EPA now (Washington Post).
And time is of the essence. On Wednesday, the Senate Democrats stalled Pruitts confirmation as head of the agency by simply not showing up for the vote. When Barack Obama presented his candidate for the EPA leadership in 2013, the Republicans managed to stall the confirmation for 136 days (New York Times). This time, it didn't take this long. Sadly, as many at the EPA say now.
On Thursday, Pruitt was confirmed as head of the EPA.
Some of Thomas' colleagues have already left the agency, others are currently looking for jobs. He is doing the same. Because if his work becomes meaningless under the new boss, he won't stay.
But until then he will stay. And fight. Because "now is the time this place needs us the most".
Politik ist oft zäh, lebt von Verhandlungen, Kompromissen und Zugeständnissen. Am Ende sitzen dann meist Männer in Anzügen beieinander und unterzeichnen Gesetze. Wie wichtig diese Bilder sein können, beweist jetzt die schwedische Vize-Premierministerin und Klimaministerin Isabella Lövin. Am Freitag postete sie auf Twitter und auf ihrem Facebook-Kanal ein Foto: