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Former US EPA chiefs offer to help House committee with oversight efforts

Seven former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrators have offered to help a key House committee conduct oversight of the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda.

The group of former EPA chiefs is comprised of Republican and Democratic political appointees from a period spanning the Nixon through Obama administrations.

"We are united that there has never been a more important time for us to put aside our differences and advocate collectively for public health and the environment," the former officials said in a letter addressed to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "Time is of the essence, and much is at stake."

Under the Trump administration, the EPA has proposed to roll back a number of Obama-era rules, including regulations addressing climate change and air and water pollution. The administration and agency officials maintain that such changes are needed to relieve industry of growth-stifling regulatory burdens, but some insist the deregulatory agenda is an abdication of the EPA's core mission.

The letter from the former EPA officials was first obtained by E&E News, which reported on it May 22. It was dated April 8 and signed by Richard Nixon-appointee William Ruckelshaus, Ronald Reagan-appointee Lee Thomas, George H.W. Bush-appointee William Reilly, Bill Clinton-appointee Carol Browner, George W. Bush-appointee Christine Todd Whitman, and Barack Obama appointees Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy. The letter was addressed to committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Ranking Member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, but substantively identical missives reportedly were sent to the heads of all congressional committees responsible for overseeing the EPA.

Asserting that "there are many areas that are ripe for oversight," the former administrators said they are "willing and eager to be a resource on any number of pressing issues" under the committee's consideration.

"As you go about creating an oversight strategy and a path forward, we would like to convey our personal willingness to connect you with resources on substance and sounding boards on priorities," the former officials said. The group added that it also looks forward to sharing ideas on "an affirmative path forward for EPA."

The former administrators also offered to connect oversight officials with members of the Environmental Protection Network, an advocacy group made up of more than 350 EPA alumni that launched in January 2017. EPN members have regularly provided public comment on EPA rulemakings and assisted the media on understanding the technical aspects of various EPA proposals and policy guidance.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter May 22.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which also is tasked with EPA oversight, plans to hold a hearing June 11 featuring four of the letter's signatories: Thomas, Reilly, Whitman and McCarthy.

"The committee will examine the management and policy challenges facing the agency today, the essential role of rigorous consensus science, and the need for an EPA that is robust and credible," Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said in a statement announcing the hearing.