Leaked EPA memo sheds light on internal chaos at the EPA

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On Monday, Senior White House Advisor Don Benton sent an email to all EPA employees regarding public scrutiny of the EPA transition. Benton, a retired Republican state senator from Vancouver, Washington, was chosen by the Donald Trump Administration to lead the EPA transition team on Jan. 23.

After explaining that transitions are a difficult time, Benton devotes considerable space—going so far as to bold a sentence—to warn staffers to be wary of what they read in the media. Although he admits in the memo, which was obtained by Popular Science, that he is unable "to validate or reject the statements made by these individuals [who are quoted by the media] since I am not directly working with them, and I have not seen many of the documents referenced in the stories."

A self-admitted lack of knowledge of the contents of those documents does not stop Benton from stating that "much of what we see is just not accurate." Given that Benton reports not to have seen any documents, it is unclear how he has judged the accuracy of reporting on those documents. Requests for comment were not immediately answered.

The Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970 under Republican President Richard Nixon as part of "a profound commitment to the rescue of our natural environment, and the preservation of the Earth as a place both habitable by and hospitable to man." Today, the EPA is tasked with creating the regulations that underpin Congressional environmental laws, enforcing those laws, and conducting environmental science research.

Last week, news circulated that the EPA is under a gag order and that its scientists are barred from speaking publicly or even posting on social media. The EPA's official Twitter handle has been inactive since January 19th—the day before the inauguration. Of the agency's ten regional departments, six have twitter accounts. Of those six, three have not tweeted since the inauguration, nor has the EPA's justice department @EPAJustice. @EPAregion3, which covers EPA region 3, has tweeted once, on January 21st—a retweet about the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird count. [EPARegion8] sent out a tweet on January 23rd about winter air pollution in the Salt Lake City area. @EPAregion2 has tweeted most recently—on January 27th, with a clarification over sponsorship. Prior to January 20th, many of these accounts tweeted several times a day.

30 PHOTOS
Every piece of land President Obama has put under protection
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Every piece of land President Obama has put under protection

Bears Ears National Monument

Location: Utah

Size: 1.35 million acres

Date of proclamation: December 28, 2016

(Brad Branan/Sacramento Bee/TNS via Getty Images)

Gold Butte National Monument

Location: Nevada

Size: 300,000 acres

Date of proclamation: Dec 28, 2016

(Photo by Ronda Churchill for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

Location: Marine waters off the coast of New England

Size: 4,913 square miles

Date of proclamation: September 15, 2016

(Photo via NOAA Photo Library/Flickr)

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument i

Location: Marine waters near the Northwest Hawaiian Islands 

Size: 582,578 square miles — the world's largest marine protected area. (The original monument was created in 2006 by President George W. Bush. Obama expanded the protected territory by 442,781 square miles.)

Date of proclamation: August 26, 2016

(Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Location: Maine

Size: 87,500 acres

Date of proclamation: August 24, 2016

(Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Stonewall National Monument

Location: New York City

Size: 0.12 acres

Date of proclamation: June 24, 2016

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument

Location: Washington, DC

Size: 0.34 acres

Date of proclamation: April 12, 2016

(Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)

Mojave Trails National Monument

Location: California

Size: 1.6 million acres (including 400,000 acres of wilderness previously designated by Congress) 

Date of proclamation: February 12, 2016

(Photo via REUTERS/Sam Mircovich)

Sand to Snow National Monument

Location: California

Size: 154,000 acres (including 100,000 acres of wilderness previously designated by Congress) 

Date of proclamation: February 12, 2016

(Photo via REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Castle Mountains National Monument

Location: California

Size: 20,920 acres

Date of proclamation: February 12, 2016

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument

Location: California

Size: 331,000 acres

Date of proclamation: July 10, 2015

(Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Location: Texas

Size: 5 acres

Date of proclamation: July 10, 2015

(Photo by Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0)

Basin and Range National Monument

Location: Nevada

Size: 704,000 acres

Date of proclamation: July 10, 2015

(Photo via U.S. Department of the Interior)

Honouliuli National Monument

Location: Hawaii

Size: 123 acres

Date of proclamation: February 24, 2015

(Photo via U.S. Department of the Interior)

Pullman National Monument

Location: Chicago

Size: 0.24 acres

Date of proclamation: February 19, 2015

(Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Browns Canyon National Monument

Location: Colorado

Size: 21,586 acres

Date of proclamation: February 19, 2015

(Photo via Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Location: California

Size: 346,177 acres

Date of proclamation: October 10, 2014

(Photo by Taylor Reilly via Getty Images)

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

Location: Marine waters west of Hawaii

Size: 308,316 square nautical miles

Date of proclamation: Obama established the monument on January 6, 2009, and expanded it on September 25, 2014

(Photo via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr)

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

Location: New Mexico

Size: 496,330 acres

Date of proclamation: May 21, 2014

(Photo via Mark Newman via Getty Images)

California Coastal National Monument

Location: California

Size: The monument was expanded to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, which added 1,665 additional acres

Date of proclamation: Bill Clinton established the monument in 2000, and Obama expanded it on March 11, 2014

(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

First State National Monument

Location: Delaware

Size: 1,108 acres

Date of proclamation: March 25, 2013

(Photo via Wikipedia)

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument

Location: Maryland

Size: 11,750 acres

Date of proclamation: March 25, 2013

(Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

Location: Ohio

Size: 59 acres

Date of proclamation: March 25, 2013

(Photo via US Department of the Interior/Flickr)

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

Location: New Mexico

Size: 242,555 acres

Date of proclamation: March 25, 2013

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

San Juan Islands National Monument

Location: Islands off the coast of Washington

Size: 970 acres

Date of proclamation: March 25, 2013

(Photo via Lidija Kamansky via Getty Images)

Cesar E. Chavez National Monument

Location: California

Size: 10.5 acres

Date of proclamation: October 8, 2012

(Photo by Cesar Gonzalez / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Chimney Rock National Monument

Location: Colorado

Size: 4,726 acres

Date of proclamation: September 21, 2012

(Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Fort Ord National Monument

Location: California

Size: 14,651 acres

Date of proclamation: April 20, 2012

(Photo via Getty Images)

Fort Monroe National Monument

Location: Virginia

Size: 325 acres

Date of proclamation: November 1, 2011

(Photo by Debra G Snelson via Getty Images)

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On Monday, the President signed an executive order stating "that for every one new regulation issued [by the EPA and other regulatory agencies], at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process." In order for the EPA to pass new regulations on fuel efficiency, for example, they must eliminate two existing laws. The long-term effects of this are unclear—it may simply mean eliminating laws that have remained beyond their expiration date, or it may mean having to cut important measures. The EPA could, in theory, have to decide which chemicals should be regulated in the water.

Benton closes the email by stating that, "no final decisions have been made with regard to the EPA," but that, "changes will likely come."

The full text of the email obtained by PopSci follows:

After one week on the job leading the transition team, I would like to say thank you to the many career professionals here at the EPA who have been working with me, White House Liason Charles Munoz, and the transition team. I have served many roles in my life in both the private sector and in the government. I want the EPA team to know that the people I have worked with here are among the best I have ever had the opportunity to work with.

We all know that political transitions are never easy. Carter to Reagan in 1981, Bush to Clinton in 1993, Clinton to Bush, and then Bush to Obama have all been unique and possessed their own challenges. We are now working our way through the transition from President Obama to President Trump.

Due to the important nature of the work that is done here at the EPA, we are falling under a greater media microscope than most agencies.

I, like many of you, am surprised each morning by what I read in the newspaper and see on TV news shows, because much of what we see is just not accurate.

In addition, many news outlets are quoting individuals who are no longer serving on the EPA transition team. I am not able to validate or reject the statements made by these individuals, since I am not directly working with them, and I have not seen many of the documents referenced in the stories.

I cannot tell you today what the final decisions from the White House, from our new Administrator, and from the Congress will be. I can tell you that despite what you read and see on TV, no final decisions have been made with regard to the EPA.

Changes will likely come, and when they do, we will work together to implement them.

One thing I am certain is that the transition team is committed to working with you to carry out the core mission of the EPA – To Protect Human Health and the Environment.

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