The head of the Environmental Protection Agency program tasked with protecting minority and poor populations from pollution has resigned in protest over the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts.
Mustafa Ali, a senior adviser and assistant associate administrator for environmental justice, had served more than two decades with the agency.
He helped found the environmental justice office, working to alleviate the impact of air, water and industrial pollution, in 1992, under President George H.W. Bush.
Ali told InsideClimate News, which first reported his resignation, that the Trump administration has shown no interest in helping vulnerable communities.
“My values and priorities seem to be different than our current leadership and because of that I feel that it’s best if I take my talents elsewhere,” he told the site.
Ali submitted a resignation letter Wednesday to new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, imploring him to reconsider major cuts that could have adverse effects on poorer communities.
A proposal submitted by the Trump administration would slash the agency’s overall budget by 25%, according to reports.
Ali handed his resignation letter to new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on Wednesday March 9, 2017.
The environmental justice program was among several that would lose nearly all of its funding.
“When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ small grants or Collaborative Problem Solving programs, which have assisted over 1,400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most,” Ali wrote in his resignation letter.
Last week, John Coequyt, a campaign director of the progressive environmental group Sierra Club, told CNN that the proposed cuts were about more than just clean air and water.
“To cut the Environmental Justice program at EPA is just racist,” he said. “I can’t imagine it’s an office that runs up much cost. I can’t describe it in any other terms than a move to leave those communities behind. I can’t imagine what the justification would be, other than racism.”
Several environmental justice issues have captured national interest in recent years.
The fight to clean up lead-contaminated water in the predominantly African-American community of Flint, Mich. and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota have received national news coverage and sparked a renewed interest in such issues, according to environmental advocates.
Ali is using his resignation as a form of protest against President Trump’s (l.) plans to make budget cuts.
But officials in the Trump administration have made it clear they are more concerned with rolling back regulations protecting people from polluters than science.
Trump has called the EPA a “disgrace” and vowed to reduce the agency to “tidbits.”
He proudly announced last month that the Dakota Access pipeline project would go forward.
Ali said Thursday he wasn’t sure if his position would be filled after his departure.
“We’ve had both (Republican and Democratic administrations) over time and none of them tried to do anything to destroy what the previous administration had done,” Ali said. “Folks are just hoping that this one will wake up and see value in continuing this important work.”
Many environmental advocates lamented the potential loss of grants and funds that have helped poorer communities stand up to corporations and other polluters.
The Flint Water Plant water tower is seen in Flint, Mich.
Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in the Obama administration, cited the upstate town of Tonawanda, outside of Buffalo, when describing the importance of the justice program’s work to InsideClimate.
The EPA gave the community a small grant to conduct ambient air monitoring.
The grant “ultimately led to a criminal case that EPA brought against Tonawanda Coke Corporation for high levels of benzene emissions,” Giles told the site.
The grants program, which began in 1994, has awarded a cumulative $23 million to more than 1,253 community-based organizations to enable “overburdened and vulnerable communities” to “address environmental challenges.”
Pruitt, who has been criticized for his close ties to oil and gas companies, said during his confirmation hearing that he was “familiar with the concept of environmental justice and believe the administrator plays an important role in this regard.
“I agree that it is important that all Americans be treated equally under the law, including the environmental laws,” he added.
Ali served EPA for more than two decades.
(ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Earlier Thursday, Pruitt said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, a statement at odds with mainstream scientific consensus — and his own agency.
Pruitt said measuring the effect of human activity on the climate is “very challenging” and that “there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
“So, no, I would not agree that (carbon dioxide) is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
Pruitt’s view contradicts mainstream climate science, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA itself.
With News Wire Services.
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