WASHINGTON (AP) — The education of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch in the ways of Washington began long ago.
As a high school student, Gorsuch, 49, had a ringside seat to watch the rise and fall of his mother in her tenure as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
It played out like a master class in the time-tested Washington dynamics of power, politics, blame and retribution.
Anne Gorsuch Burford came to Washington from Colorado with her children in tow in 1981, appointed to lead the EPA by President Ronald Reagan. She drew almost immediate criticism for trying to roll back EPA policies, cut the agency’s staff and shift more responsibility to states. She cut the EPA budget by 22 percent, slashed EPA enforcement actions against polluters and slowed down payments for Superfund cleanups.
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Then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, a Texas Democrat, referred to Burford and Interior Secretary James Watt as “the Bonnie and Clyde environmental wrecking crew.”
Burford lasted just 22 months in the job before resigning after being cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over subpoenaed documents to a House subcommittee investigating a Superfund toxic waste program.
Like Burford, Trump’s own nominee for the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is known as a critic of strong environmental regulation and is intent on rolling back Obama-era policies.
It’s easy to see how lawsuits brought by environmentalists could end up before the Supreme Court in future years, perhaps in front of a Justice Gorsuch.
So stormy was Burford’s tenure at the EPA that her teenage son Neil, then attending Georgetown Preparatory School, was questioned by reporters seeking comment about his mother.
When his mother resigned in March of 1983, an upset young Gorsuch told his mother she “never should have resigned,” his mother wrote in a memoir.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Anne Burford quoted her son as telling her. “You only did what the president ordered. Why are you quitting? You raised me not to be a quitter.”
When Burford resigned, Reagan said she had been “unjustly attacked” and called her departure “an occasion of sorrow for us all.”
But Burford felt abandoned by the president.
In a meeting days before her resignation, she told the attorney general, “I am a small fish on the way to the big fry.” She told House investigators she’d been “screwed without a kiss.”
In her 1986 book “Are You Tough Enough,” Burford wrote that Reagan “solved his problem by jettisoning me and my people, people whose only ‘crime’ was loyal service, following orders. I was not the first to receive his special brand of benevolent neglect, a form of conveniently looking the other way, while his staff continues to do some very dirty work.”
Reagan later appointed Burford to an environmental advisory committee, a move that drew a swift outcry from environmentalists. She withdrew as chairwoman of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere before her swearing in, and derided the panel as a “nothingburger” and “a joke.”
She died of cancer at age 61 in 2004.
Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac