Since President Donald Trump released his proposed budget last month, environmentalist groups have been agog over funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s proposed budget cut the EPA’s funding by 31 percent, a rate harsher than it imposed on any other department. According to recently-leaked EPA documents, the agency is considering steep cuts to its workforce in order to meet these numbers. The EPA plan includes reducing its workforce by 25 percent and eliminating 56 programs. However, one sector of its payroll in increasing: Scott Pruitt has requested an EPA security increase.
Pruitt has requested an additional 10 agents be added to his security staff to provide a round-the-clock security detail. During prior administrations, the EPA head’s security detail fluctuated in size, generally including between six and eight agents. The request necessitates increasing the agency’s existing Protection Services Detail even as the remainder of the EPA faces significant staffing cuts.
Environmentalist groups ridiculed the request, pointing out that the EPA security increase could hamper the EPA’s ability to investigate environmental crimes.
The EPA security increase may be warranted, since Pruitt’s brief tenure at the agency has already been marked by resistance within the department and protests from without. Members of the Trump transition team have defended the request, pointing to the resistance Pruitt and others have faced.
“I think it’s prudent given the continuing activities by the left to foment hatred, and the reported hostility within the agency from some unprofessional activists,” said Myron Ebell, who headed the Trump transition team for the EPA.
Pruitt’s confirmation hearings were also the site of protests. In January, a protester connected to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline was arrested outside the Senate chamber where the confirmation hearing was being held.
“I think there’s more controversy with this appointment than I’ve ever seen in any of the past appointments for EPA administrator, so that could translate to more of a need,” said Burnside.
Pruitt faced protests from within the agency as early as February, when roughly 300 people, a third of them EPA employees, protested outside the Chicago regional office. The employees told reporters that were worried about Pruitt’s history of opposing the EPA’s environmental protections.
The protest was organized in part by the employees’ union. This resistance from within the department is nearly unheard of in government.
“It is rare,” James A. Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University told the New York Times. “I can’t think of any other time when people in the bureaucracy have done this.”
Nor are the protests limited to groups within the agency. Several environmentalist groups are also organizing for a major march in Washington on April 29. They hope to draw attention to the ways in which Trump administration policies hurt efforts to slow global warming.
Pruitt was not the only cabinet secretary to request a security increase. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been protected by the U.S. Marshals Service since protesters prevented her from entering a D.C. school for a tour in mid-February. Previously, the Secretary of Education had been protected by six agents from within the department, but, as in Pruitt’s case, this was not seen as sufficient for the Trump cabinet-member.
It should be noted that the $5.7 billion EPA budget is still just a proposal at this stage. Before taking effect, it will need to pass Congress, which will likely add significant changes of its own.