|Environmental Protection Agency employees and environmental activists gather in Chicago, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, to protest the nomination of Scott Pruitt for administrator of the agency. Pruitt is President Donald Trump's pick to head the agency. (AP Photo/Carla K. Johnson)|
CHICAGO (AP) — Hundreds of current and former employees of the Environmental Protection Agency are speaking out against President Donald Trump's pick to head the department.
About 300 people, including scores of EPA employees, rallied Monday across the street from the agency's regional headquarters in downtown Chicago to oppose Scott Pruitt's nomination.
Nearly 450 former EPA officials also signed a letter sent to the U.S. Senate saying that Pruitt is the wrong man for the job. It said Pruitt's record "raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date and whether he agrees with the longstanding tenets of U.S. environmental law."
Senate Democrats boycotted a committee vote on Pruitt's nomination last week, citing the 14 lawsuits he filed as Oklahoma's attorney general to overturn air and water regulations issued by the very agency he now hopes to lead. Pruitt, who raised campaign money from the oil and gas industry, has also questioned the validity of climate science showing carbon emissions are the primary cause of climate change.
Despite the no-show by Democrats, committee Republicans voted unanimously to send Pruitt's nomination to a likely vote before the full Senate in the coming days. He is expected to be confirmed along largely party lines.
Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said through his spokesman on Monday that he continues to believe Pruitt is highly qualified to lead EPA and that he is "confident in his commitment to help the EPA better meet its mission to protect the environment — ensuring clean water, air, and land — while also pursuing policies that will enable our economy to grow."
Neither the EPA nor the White House responded to requests for comment on Monday.
At the rally in Chicago, EPA employees and their supporters waved signs that read "Stop Pruitt" and "Save EPA."
"I think Pruitt will shackle us," said Sherry Estes, an EPA enforcement attorney. She said employee morale within the agency has plummeted since the election of Trump, who campaigned on pledges to eliminate the agency and roll back environmental protections.
"It's horrible. People are scared. People are depressed. People who were recently hired and have babies or just bought a house are scared they'll be laid off," said Estes, who said she was unafraid to speak out because she is close to retirement.
Though the White House has not yet revealed the president's plans for EPA, the former leader of Trump's transition team at the agency told The Associated Press he would like to see the workforce cut in half.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said to his knowledge it was the first time current EPA employees had publicly criticized Pruitt or the Trump administration's approach toward the agency.
"Between Scott Pruitt and the EPA workforce, you have a mutual lack-of-admiration society," Ruch said.