Science Policy & Funding News

Former EPA Chief Decries Attacks on Science

Gina McCarthy also expresses concern about the current state of the agency.

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Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Gina McCarthy said on Tuesday that it is important to stand up for science against attacks by the Trump administration.

“This attack on science is ludicrous,” McCarthy, who served as EPA administrator under President Barack Obama, told Eos in an interview. “It is simply a short-term way for this administration to deny reality, so they can do whatever they want, and right now that just appears to be what industry wants them to do.”

McCarthy spoke to Eos following an event she participated in at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D. C., to help launch Resource Watch, a technology platform devised by the World Resources Institute and its partners to monitor global resources and trends.

Many scientists and environmentalists have criticized the Trump administration for attacking and sidelining science and for rolling back environmental regulations. McCarthy spoke a few days before thousands of scientists and other citizens around the nation and world are expected to rally in support of science at March for Science events this Saturday. The American Geophysical Union, publisher of Eos, is a sponsor of the March for Science internationally.

“Science is really important. It is the backbone of the success of this country,” McCarthy said. “It’s how we are going to figure out how to have a sustainable and healthy planet and ecosystem and economy.”

The attack on science “worries me a lot,” she added. “It worries me because I work at the Harvard School of Public Health, and [science] is what we rely on to provide people real information on what matters to them to protect themselves and their families.”

McCarthy, who was EPA administrator from 2013 to 2017, directs Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment in Boston. “I also work for a private equity company called Pegasus Capital. They actually want to rely on science. The business community needs it,” she noted.

McCarthy’s Perspective on EPA

McCarthy said that it’s hard for her to tell, from the outside, how much Pruitt might be weakening the agency’s role in protecting the environment. Recent news stories have reported that some of Pruitt’s regulatory rollback efforts are poorly devised and may not hold up in court. “I do know that they have budget challenges. I know some good people have left,” she said.

The current administration has consistently tried to slash the agency’s budget. On 23 March, President Donald Trump reluctantly signed the 2018 omnibus spending bill, which provides level funding for EPA for fiscal year 2018.

“My only hope is that [Pruitt’s] inability to work with the career staff and to focus on the mission of the agency will make him much less effective at dismantling the agency or rolling back really important public protections,” McCarthy told Eos.

On Ethics Concerns at EPA

Regarding how much Pruitt might be weakened by current ethical questions about his travel expenses, housing arrangements, and other issues, McCarthy responded,  “I really can’t tell because I don’t know what his intent is. But I know a couple of things. One is that [EPA] is an agency whose mission is important. He should be focused on it. So far, not so good,” she said.

She emphasized, however, that “the most important thing I think right now is to get good information out to people and to not allow science to be attacked, but to stand up for it and speak as clearly as we can.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2018), Former EPA chief decries attacks on science, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO096621. Published on 12 April 2018.
© 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0