EPA Workers Attempt to Block Scott Pruitt’s Confirmation as New Head of EPA

In early February, The New York Times published this article, EPA Workers Try to Block Pruitt in Show of Defiance, which focused on how many current and former EPA employees were protesting and contacting their senators in an attempt to block Pruitt’s confirmation as the new head of the EPA. Pruitt’s nomination was largely contested due to his ties to fossil fuel industries as well as his ideology when it comes to environmental regulation. He’d previously sued the EPA on numerous occasions to prevent various regulations from being put into place.

This article shows an interesting side of this issue that I hadn’t previously been exposed to, and that was how these workers were reacting to the idea of Pruitt taking charge of the EPA. The author mentioned how it’s uncommon in a bureaucracy to see workers join together and contact their government representatives in an event like this. I like how they had quotes from employees who wished to block the confirmation, as well as a quote from a senior official, Jeffrey Holmstead, who gave a different take on these protests, saying that they were demonizing Pruitt. I had imagined that the entirety of the EPA was against the Pruitt nomination, but it appears that he had some support within the agency as well.

The article ended with what I considered to be a strong kicker because makes readers wonder about the consequences of Trump’s plans for possible dismantling the EPA and how difficult it would be to revive the agency was it was ended. With all of that being said, what do you think made this article unique? Many other authors have written about individuals contacting the government and taking other actions in response to political nominations, so why would this article stand apart from all of the other ones? How do you think members of a political institution who were opposing changes in leadership feel about having their names and opinions shared by a national news outlet when it may potentially jeopardize their careers?

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8 Responses to “EPA Workers Attempt to Block Scott Pruitt’s Confirmation as New Head of EPA”

  1. Hi Cassandra, I appreciate that you posted an article about the EPA — what is going to happen to that agency is fascinating, and from the standpoint of someone concerned about the stability of our planet, a scary process. I think this article stands out because the author speaks to the true players in the game. While yes, people have called their senators before, getting stories from an agency united to do so provides for a compelling read. That multiple EPA employees would not only voice their opposition to the president’s pick, but have their names included, is brave, and indicates how dangerous they see Pruitt.

  2. Good morning everyone! I look forward to meeting all of you in class on Thursday to discuss the politics of environmental decision-making. Let me preface my comments by sharing that my profession is in government relations, not journalism, and as such I am likely the least educated person on this forum when it comes to the tenets of article structure, etc. That said, I’d like to provide a couple of initial comments to lay some foundational concepts for our discussion.

    I found it intriguing that both of this week’s blogs – articles on sweeping reforms to extremely relevant and important environmental issues – were both premised on arguably tangential issues; this article on obstructive efforts by EPA staff, the other on a protest event. Please note that this comment is not meant to dismiss the importance of the people in those stories or the issues they are advocating; but I do believe that it is part of a larger narrative.

    As an avid Marvel Cinematics Universe fan, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not immune to the great American tradition of the “conflict”. The struggle of good vs. evil and protagonist vs. antagonist is a tantalizing story that has defined much of our written literature, and later our radio and television media, and served as a foundation of our natural culture.

    While engaging as a fiction, however, it can be dangerous when transposed on issues of public policy and governance. Our political climate seems to encourage us to “pick a team” on the issue of the day: Republican vs. Democrat, pro-life vs. pro-choice, black lives vs. blue lives; and in many instances, moderation is treated as a restraint of passion, and thoughtful discourse as a lack of conviction.

    Recognizing that environmental policy isn’t necessarily considered a “sexy” subject, journalists certainly struggle to write articles on the issue area that draw the attention of their readers. Articles such as the blogs presented this week are great examples of providing a compelling narrative to attract readers who may otherwise not have any interest.

    My question is: assuming you accept the premise of my observations (and please feel free to argue if you don’t), how can the media best continue to provide effective and responsible journalism amongst an increasingly divisive society who often seem to value self-affirmation above education and civil discourse? Do they even have this obligation to begin with?

    Footnote: I’ve intentionally withheld any thoughts on this observation and how it relates to current events on the national stage, but I hope it might provide for a productive point of discussion in class on Thursday!

  3. Thanks so much, Jason, for jumping into this discussion! As Julie may have mentioned to you, I co-teach Environ 320 with her, and we always appreciate it when our guests take the time to comment on the blog.

    I’d like to address a question that Cassie raised in her post about how the EPA employees feel about being quoted. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that these people probably have mixed feelings, including fear and pride and patriotism. Clearly, they each made careful decisions to protest and to be quoted. This was not accidental, and I doubt that they are mad at the reporter for quoting them. Quite the opposite — a protest is designed to draw attention, and reporters amplify that attention.

    News organizations in recent weeks have increased their efforts to provide ways to protect government workers and others who want to share tips without sharing their names. Here are the options laid out by the Washington Post:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/anonymous-news-tips/?utm_term=.c2fd2c2d49bd
    Here’s a related opinion piece published by the Post:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/02/10/staying-true-to-yourself-in-the-age-of-trump-a-how-to-guide-for-federal-employees/?utm_term=.cbca4dd00c07

    Almost every day, my news feed contains some new commentary about the role of journalism in the United States today. Certainly, it is an incredibly interesting time to examine that question. Just yesterday, veteran journalist Bill Moyers weighed in with this piece:
    http://billmoyers.com/story/truth-lies-democracy-journalism-age-trump/

    Among my favorite post-election journalism efforts is this Red Feed/Blue Feed from the Wall Street Journal. I believe I’ve shared it before but it’s so good it’s worth sharing again. Please be careful that you don’t wind up spending hours on this every day:
    http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/

    I know you will have a really great conversation Thursday!

  4. Thanks for sharing this article. What I was interested in most within this article was, as Jason wrote, this idea of the portrayal of Pruitt. I think that the author attempts to present a relatively unbiased depiction of the issues at hand, or at least presents both sides. However, I’m not completely sold that she does so equally. This comes back to a common problem we have discussed in class on the importance of unbiased journalism. Could this article have been more compelling if the author strayed away from this “good vs evil” narrative as Jason suggests? I’m not sure. In this age of polarizing political opinion seeping into all issues, I would argue it would be harmful for Davenport to validate the ideas presented in Mr. Trump’s quote “Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace.” Is this too naive of me to think this way?

    • Great blog post Cassandra!

      I think that the polarization that Emily and Jason have elaborated on is exactly the problem that has led to where we are. There is a polarization of the media and a polarization of opinions in government. This divide of “good” vs. “evil” is pathetic. We cannot even agree upon simple facts and neither side is able to accept when one is right and when one is wrong. How can we create a just democracy when both sides think they are right 100% of the time? If both political wings could actually analyze policies and issues rather than demonizing one another, imagine how much progress we would make as a nation.

      In my opinion, this won’t happen until we heavily limit lobbying power.

  5. Thanks for posting this article! I found it really interesting, as it took on a point of view that most articles concerning the EPA during the presidential transition haven’t done. That being said, Jason’s comment made me really rethink the purpose this article serves and whether or not discussing the EPA in this way is productive. One quote that stood out to me was the EPA worker who stated that “I’ve been here 30 years and I’ve never called my senator before,” highlighting how detrimental she feels Pruitt’s nomination could be for the EPA. As I personally am not happy about Pruitt’s nomination, this article essentially just validated my belief that he is unsuitable for the job. If I supported Pruitt, however, I’m not sure that this article would cause me to reconsider my beliefs. Portraying it as a “good vs. evil” issue, as Jason pointed out, I simply “patted myself on the back” for being on the “right” side. A supporter of Pruitt, on the other hand, would likely feel attacked and defensive. A more effective way to present this would perhaps have been showing the nuances of the issue. Instead of speaking to many different EPA employees who either said they supported or opposed Pruitt, talking to someone from both sides in the argument in depth, about where their beliefs are coming from, would have been a more informative article and allowed the reader to come to a educated conclusion about the issue discussed.

  6. Thanks for posting this article! I found it really interesting, as it took on a point of view that most articles concerning the EPA during the presidential transition haven’t done. That being said, Jason’s comment made me really rethink the purpose this article serves and whether or not discussing the EPA in this way is productive. One quote that stood out to me was the EPA worker who stated that “I’ve been here 30 years and I’ve never called my senator before,” highlighting how detrimental she feels Pruitt’s nomination could be for the EPA. As I personally am not happy about Pruitt’s nomination, this article essentially just validated my belief that he is unsuitable for the job. If I supported Pruitt, however, I’m not sure that this article would cause me to reconsider my beliefs. Portraying it as a “good vs. evil” issue, as Jason pointed out, I simply “patted myself on the back” for being on the “right” side. A supporter of Pruitt, on the other hand, would likely feel attacked and defensive. A more effective way to present this would perhaps have been showing the nuances of the issue. Instead of speaking to many different EPA employees who either said they supported or opposed Pruitt, talking to someone from both sides in the argument in depth, about where their beliefs are coming from, would have been a more informative article and allowed the reader to come to a educated conclusion about the issue discussed.

  7. To respond to Emily’s comment, I don’t think it’s naive at all to to muse on the benefits and drawbacks of validating some ideas and/or condemning others that are objectively harmful. I do think, though, that we as readers are obviously aware that the majority of journalists at the Times likely aren’t keen on the Trump administrations nor are likely supporters of Pruitt himself. But I also think that it can be difficult for an article that covers issues like the EPA and climate change in this era to sound completely unbiased because the debates themselves are becoming increasingly difficult to take seriously, in my opinion. I think this article does a decent job presenting both sides, and I think one of the quotes sourced from Jeffrey Holmstead illustrates both of my points (that Davenport’s article isn’t too polarizing and that conversations over the EPA in recent news are borderline absurd) quite well: “’We know that he’ll dismantle Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule, but he’s not going to go in there and start firing people,’ said Mr. Holmstead.” As if not firing people is reason enough to overlook and even accept the fact that the new head of the EPA intends to dismantle the Clean Power Plan. I suppose, in short, I thought that this article did well in terms of covering both sides of the issue and I commend journalists for doing their best to keep their biases out of their reporting in this unprecedentedly polarized political climate.

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