16 february 2017

E.P.A. Workers Try to Block Pruitt in Show of Defiance

By CORAL DAVENPORT, New York Times, FEB. 16, 2017

WASHINGTON — Employees of the Environmental Protection Agency have been calling their senators to urge them to vote on Friday against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s contentious nominee to run the agency, a remarkable display of activism and defiance that presages turbulent times ahead for the E.P.A.

Many of the scientists, environmental lawyers and policy experts who work in E.P.A. offices around the country say the calls are a last resort for workers who fear a nominee selected to run an agency he has made a career out of fighting — by a president who has vowed to “get rid of” it.

“Mr. Pruitt’s background speaks for itself, and it comes on top of what the president wants to do to E.P.A.,” said John O’Grady, a biochemist at the agency since the first Bush administration and president of the union representing the E.P.A.’s 15,000 employees nationwide.

Nicole Cantello, an E.P.A. lawyer who heads the union in the Chicago area, said: “It seems like Trump and Pruitt want a complete reversal of what E.P.A. has done. I don’t know if there’s any other agency that’s been so reviled. So it’s in our interests to do this.”

The union has sent emails and posted Facebook and Twitter messages urging members to make the calls.

“It is rare,” said James A. Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. “I can’t think of any other time when people in the bureaucracy have done this.”

The campaign is not likely to succeed. Before Friday’s vote, two Democratic senators, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, announced that they would vote for Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation, and only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, has said she will oppose him.

But because Civil Service rules make it difficult to fire federal workers, the show of defiance indicates that Mr. Pruitt will face strong internal opposition to many of his promised efforts to curtail E.P.A. activities and influence.
An anti-Pruitt protest last week by Chicago E.P.A. employees. Credit Carla K. Johnson/Associated Press

“What it means is that it’s going to be a blood bath when Pruitt gets in there,” said Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican former governor of New Jersey and the E.P.A. administrator during the first term of President George W. Bush.

Ms. Whitman predicted a standoff between career employees and their politically appointed bosses, noting that Mr. Pruitt would be blocked by legal Civil Service protections from immediately firing longtime employees, but would probably be able to retaliate in other ways, such as shifting them to different jobs.

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