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600 Ex-EPA Officials Call for Investigation Into Trump Admin Over Threats to California

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks during a news conference at the EPA headquarters in Washington, DC, on September 19, 2019. (Credit: ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty Images)

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks during a news conference at the EPA headquarters in Washington, DC, on September 19, 2019. (Credit: ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty Images)

Nearly 600 former Environmental Protection Agency officials are calling on Congress to investigate the Trump administration’s “inappropriate threat of use of EPA authority” against the state of California over recent environmental policies.

Five hundred ninety-three former officials who worked under Republican and Democratic administrations signed a letter sent to the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday requesting an investigation into EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s threat to withhold federal highway funds from the state. They also want an investigation into Wheeler’s demand that the state take action regarding its homelessness crisis. The officials write in the letter that both actions “were intended as retaliation for the state’s failure to support President Trump’s political agenda.”

Asked for comment, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud responded: “Highlighting that California has the worst air quality in the nation along with other serious environmental problems is not a political issue. … EPA expects California leaders to share its concern for the protection of public health.”

EPA officials who signed the letter include:

  • Eric Schaeffer, who was director of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement during the George W. Bush administration and is now director of the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project.
  • Elizabeth Southerland, who resigned from her role as director of science and technology in the EPA’s Office of Water in 2017.
  • Gina McCarthy, who was EPA administrator during the Obama administration.
  • Cynthia Giles, who was EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance during the Obama administration.

“Mr. Wheeler’s actions cannot be treated as legitimate uses of EPA’s authority taken for the purpose of advancing environmental protection, especially considering the current Administration’s record,” officials write in the letter, sent out by the Environmental Integrity Project.

The request is the latest in the fight between the Trump administration and the Golden State over environmental policies. In early September, President Donald Trump threatened to have the agency take action against the city of San Francisco over its homelessness crisis. Wheeler sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, blaming the state for the crisis and said in a statement that the EPA would be “forced to take action” if the state didn’t meet its “environmental obligations.” The EPA also threatened later that month to withhold federal highway funds from California if it didn’t rescind 130 air quality plans.

“EPA’s authority should be used to protect human health and the environment and never to retaliate against perceived political foes,” the officials wrote in the letter. “We urge your Committee to determine whether Mr. Wheeler’s letters of September 24 and 26 threatening to withhold grant funds and increase EPA oversight were motivated by improper partisan concerns.”

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