RPCV Mike Cox (Malawi) has last word at EPA


Thanks to a “heads up” from Catherine Varchaver (APCD Kyrgyzstan 1995-97) about this article.


EPA Staffer leaves with a bang, blasting agency policies under Trump
by Joe Davidson/Columnist Washington Post — April 7

When Mike Cox quit, he did so with gusto.

After 25 years, he retired last week from the Environmental Protection Agency with a tough message for the boss, Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“I, along with many EPA staff, are becoming increasing alarmed about the direction of EPA under your leadership … ” Cox said in a letter to Pruitt. “The policies this Administration is advancing are contrary to what the majority of the American people, who pay our salaries, want EPA to accomplish, which are to ensure the air their children breath is safe; the land they live, play, and hunt on to be free of toxic chemicals; and the water they drink, the lakes they swim in, and the rivers they fish in to be clean.”

Cox was a climate change adviser for EPA’s Region 10, covering Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, he’s been very involved in Bainbridge, Wash., coaching youth sports and serving on local boards and commissions. For two decades, the fit 60-year-old rode his bike eight miles to the ferry, then uphill to his Seattle office.

He can get away with being so blunt because he sent the letter on his last day on the job. Yet his views reflect the disgust and frustration among the agency employees he left behind. Interviews with staffers point to a workforce demoralized by President Trump’s and Pruitt’s statements that conflict with science. They are worried about a new, backward direction for the agency and nervous about proposed, drastic budget cuts.

Mike Cox

Mike Cox

They are also fearful.

Twice during an hour of interviews for this column, EPA workers in different parts of the country asked to communicate with me by using encryption software. All who spoke feared retaliation and would not allow their names to be used.

“It is pretty bleak,” one staffer, an environmental engineer, said about employee morale.

“It’s in the dumps,” said another.

“Pretty much everybody is updating their resumes. It’s grim,” added a third.

They and their colleagues are dedicated to EPA’s mission to “protect human health and the environment.” They fear that Trump administration policies will do the opposite.

Like Cox, they are upset with an administrator casting doubt on the central role carbon dioxide plays in climate change. “You will continue to undermine your credibility and integrity with EPA staff, and the majority of the public, if you continue to question this basic science of climate change,” Cox wrote.

Of course, Pruitt’s position is no surprise for a man who was appointed by a president who called climate change a hoax.

To see the effects of climate change, Cox invited Pruitt to “visit the Pacific Northwest and see where the streams are too warm for our salmon to survive in the summer; visit the oyster farmers in Puget Sound whose stocks are being altered from the oceans becoming more acidic; talk to the ski area operators who are seeing less snowpack and worrying about their future; and talk to the farmers in Eastern Washington who are struggling to have enough water to grow their crops and water their cattle.  The changes I am referencing are not impacts projected for the future, but are happening now.”

Trump’s proposed EPA budget is the vehicle for his science-doubting policies.

His 31 percent budget decrease would be the largest among agencies not eliminated. It would result in layoffs for 25 percent of the staff and cuts to 50 EPA programs,  The Washington Post reported Sunday. Lost would be more than half the positions in the division testing automaker fuel efficiency claims.

An EPA environmental engineer is “almost hopeful” for a partial government shutdown, which could happen after April 28 if Congress doesn’t approve a spending measure, because “it’s better than getting axed right away.”

Cox challenged the “indefensible budget cuts,” asking Pruitt “why resources for Alaska Native Villages are being reduced when they are presented with some of the most difficult conditions in the country; why you would eliminate funds for the protection and restoration of the Puget Sound ecosystem which provides thousands of jobs and revenue for Washington State; and why you would reduce funds for a program that retrofits school buses to reduce diesel emission exhaust inhaled by our most vulnerable population — children.”

The EPA did not respond to requests for comment on Cox’s letter, but Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s EPA transition team, did.

Now that Trump is moving toward “radically downsizing the EPA,” Ebell said, “employees who are opposed to the Trump Administration’s agenda are either going to conduct themselves as professional civil servants or find other employment or retire or be terminated.  I would be more sympathetic if they had ever expressed any concern for the people whose jobs have been destroyed by EPA’s regulatory rampage.”

They are conducting themselves as the professional civil servants they are, even as they are distressed over the direction of the agency. They complain quietly, sometimes openly, but without rebellion.

“We still have to go on until they shut the lights off,” said one EPA manager. “People here are committed to the mission and not necessarily to a paycheck.”

Coping takes different forms.

Black humor and burying themselves in a project’s scientific minutia will work for some.

“For the rest of us,” added one longtime regional staffer, “there probably will be a significant rise in alcoholism.”


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  • As an early technical PCV, and with a subsequent career mostly in environmental protection, implementing the landmark legislation of the early 1970s, I can only tell the EPA staffers being laid off, that this boondoggle cannot go on for very long. Keep things together, financially, because it won’t be long you’ll be returning. In the meantime, perhaps we can create, like a Government in Exile, a sort of Environmental Protection Consensus in exile, ready to resume serious work when the current fiasco crumbles — as it surely will. JAT

  • I believe that the RPCV Community bares some responsibility for the ignorance of the American public about the negative environmental impact of our advanced technology. I share that responsibility. I joined in the closing days of the last great golden age of America – October 1963. The United States and its Allies had defeated the Nazis in Europe and almost singlehandedly defeated the Japanese in the Pacific, in three and half short years. Then, we had rebuilt the economys of and created democratic governments for our defeated enemies. Now, both Germany and Japan were strong allies. The
    American economy itself was good. The United States had put men into space and was on the path to put them on the moon. Our scientific know how, industrial strength and technological brilliance had all been critical ingredients in this splendid success.

    Providing the so-called Third World with our expertise and “teaching” them our values should unleash their potential and lead these peoples into democratic prosperity. It should not be difficult, for us, pioneer missionaries of this Brave New World. Little did we realize that we had no idea of the negative consequences of our technology, no generational studies at all. If was as if we were driving on a moonless night along a winding mountain road at 80 miles an hour with no brakes. and headlights that shone less than 10 feet in front of us.

    Those of us assigned to health education and agriculture introduced and promoted pesticides and insecticides like DDT and fertilizers that depleted the soil: infant formula and early infant feeding and soap with hexachlorophene, powdered milk to lactose intolerant populations and the glories of rapid industrialization. We dismissed questions or resistance to our new ideas as “superstitions” and worked even harder.

    I did not read “Silent Spring” or the “Surgeon General’s Report on the Hazards of Cigarette smoking” until l came home.
    Gradually I began to realize how potentially dangerous elements of better living through chemistry could be. Medication I had been give was removed because it could be carcinogenic. Concerned US mothers, not the RPCV community, began the campaign against infant formula in poor countries. The older I became the more I realized how little we knew. However, there was absolutely no place to go with that information, certainly not PC/DC.

    Today, Volunteers promote organic farming and breast-feeding. But, I have never found the PC public record or the time or the evaluation that said we made mistakes, we should acknowledge them and try and correct them. We should inform the public. It should be an ongoing commitment. Perhaps if PC had seen its Third Goal mandate more comprehensively, people in the US might be more knowledgeable and more politically supportive of such efforts as the EPA.

    If there is continuing PC review of the technology and health practices that volunteers promote, I cannot find it. On Facebook, one host country’s serving volunteers were congratulating a fellow volunteer who had persuaded a young mother that it was perfectly okay for pregnant women to eat papaya. It was only superstitious to believe that papaya was a “ghost fruit.” A quick search on Google brought me to a medical website that said unripe papaya was strongly counter indicated for pregnant women because it could cause miscarriage. Also, many doctors urged pregnant women to use caution with ripe papaya. I finally wrote about my concerns to the PC Director. I never heard back.

  • “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” says Willian Blake’s Proverbs in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell
    “Who rides the tiger cannot dismount” says old wisdom.

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