Trump’s America, Chapter 312

I reread the NYT’s 2004 obit for Ann Grusuch Buford. This paragraph struck me:

In appointing her administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, President Reagan made Ms. Burford a leader in his effort to bring economic discipline to environmental cleanup and to give the states greater enforcement powers on matters like clean air and water, policies she had earlier advocated on the state level. Critics contended that the policies weakened federal environmental enforcement to please polluting industries.

Mark Halperin might admire this masterpiece of discretion and euphemism, or, in plain English, cowardice and bullshit. To argue that Ronald Wilson Reagan wanted to “bring economic discipline” to the EPA is like arguing that a chef wants to bring gastronomical discipline to a slaughterhouse. The WaPo’s obit is more like it:

More than half of the federal regulations targeted for an early review by the Reagan administration’s regulatory reform team were EPA rules. Virtually all of her subordinates at the EPA came from the ranks of the industries they were charged with overseeing.


The list of rollbacks attempted by these administrators is as sweeping as those of the current administration. Gorsuch tried to gut the Clean Air Act with proposals to weaken pollution standards “on everything from automobiles to furniture manufacturers — efforts which took Congress two years to defeat,” according to Clapp. Moves to weaken the Clean Water Act were equally aggressive, crescendoing in 1987 when Reagan vetoed a strong reauthorization of the act only to have his veto overwhelmingly overridden by Congress. Assaults on Superfund were so hideous that Rita Lavelle, director of the program, was thrown in jail for lying to Congress under oath about corruption in her agency division.

The gutting of funds for environmental protection was another part of Reagan’s legacy. “EPA budget cuts during Reagan’s first term were worse than they are today,” said Frank O’Donnell, director of Clean Air Trust, who reported on environmental policy for The Washington Monthly during the Reagan era. “The administration tried to cut EPA funding by more than 25 percent in its first budget proposal,” he said. And massive cuts to Carter-era renewable-energy programs “set solar back a decade,” said Clapp.

When an administration cleans seven out of 546 Superfund sites, it is not being solicitous about the environment, let alone the health of an agency.

I post these excerpts for the sake of context, for history is about to play another trick on us. Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s pick to head the EPA, looks even worse than Gorsuch. For one, the Oklahoma attorney general protested the federal government’s environmental oversight using scripts written by Big Oil lobbyists. “Nothing new” is one thing; the scale is different. There will be no separation between the agency and the industry it’s regulating.

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