This conversation is an excerpt from a recent episode of Trump on Earth, our new podcast exploring the environment in the Trump era. It is produced in conjunction with Point Park University’s Environmental Journalism program.
No one knows better how the current administration’s policies will impact science at the EPA better than Michael Cox. He worked at the agency since 1987 under five different administrations.
And when he retired last month, Cox used the opportunity to tell the new boss how he really felt. In the now famous candid letter, Cox admonished Administrator Pruitt for appointing top staff who are openly hostile to the EPA’s mission. That mission is pretty simple, Cox says: protect human health and the environment.
“I understand that elections have consequences and that a new administration has different priorities. But the proposed budget that came out was cutting to the core the work that we do.”
LISTEN: Meet the EPA Staffer Who Sent His Boss a Scathing “I Quit!” Letter
Cox says that one thing that really got to him was the president’s visit to the EPA on March 28th.
“He was coming to sign executive orders repealing many of the climate change activities that had been put forth but President Obama. We knew he was going to do that. But the day of, the chief of staff for Administrator Pruitt sent out an ‘All Staff’ and the headline was “Our Big Day Today.” And a lot of us looked at that and said, “Our Big Day? Who is the ‘our’ here?” It set us all off and felt like a real poke in the eye coming to EPA and saying we’re going to repeal these things and, in some way, we were supposed to be happy and proud about that.”
Cox says he’s never seen staff morale so low. So he thought he’d also provide Pruitt with some ideas on how to engage staff.
“Because in my mind, in order to be successful, the EPA career staff have to be on board and and inspired and motivated to do their work,” says Cox.
For starters, Cox says, Pruitt could take a step back, and listen. In his letter, Cox asks Pruitt, “Do you really want your legacy to be the person who led the rollback and reversal of the amazing gains we have made over the past 40 years?”
Want to hear more? You can check out our full conservation with Michael Cox and other scientists taking a stand on episode 12 of Trump on Earth. And sound off with what you’re taking away from Trump’s first 100 Days on our Facebook page.