Former Bush, Reagan EPA heads caution on Trump rollbacks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency heads under three previous Republican presidents joined their Democratic counterparts Tuesday in telling lawmakers they were concerned with the Trump administration’s rapid rollbacks of environmental protections.

“The EPA on the track it’s on … is endangering public health,” Christine Todd Whitman, EPA administrator under George W. Bush, told the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee. Whitman said she was “deeply concerned that five decades of environmental progress are at risk because of the attitudes and approach of this administration.”

Lee Thomas and William K. Reilly, EPA chiefs under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, respectively, also spoke, as did Obama-era EPA leader Gina McCarthy. The unusual testimony came after seven of the still-living former leaders of the 49-year-old agency signed a letter urging lawmakers to work to make the EPA focus on its mission of protecting public health and the environment.

“I’ve never seen a situation where three Republicans and one Democrat come in and sound the alarm the way they have today,” subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, said after the hearing.

Much of the criticisms from the former EPA heads focused on perceptions that the Trump administration was focusing on economic and financial interests, sidelining or rejecting science and minimizing environmental and health effects in moving to ease dozens of environmental regulations.

Asked for reaction, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said current EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler was working to engage the agency’s Science Advisory Board, or SAB.

“Administrator Wheeler will continue to work with the SAB and try to improve relations that the previous administration took for granted,” Abboud said.

Abboud did not immediately comment on the broader criticisms. While his predecessors were testifying, however, Wheeler tweeted that the agency was balancing “our regulations to ensure a healthy and safe environment while also saving the taxpayer $3.6 billion. And we’re just getting started.”

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