A former Seattle-based Environmental Protection Agency official has gained national attention for a blistering departure letter that he sent to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
A former Seattle-based Environmental Protection Agency official has gained national attention for a blistering departure letter that he sent to Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Michael Cox worked for the EPA for more than 25 years, serving under six presidents, before retiring March 31 from his position as a climate-change adviser.
His exit letter is a five-page critique that attacks Pruitt and President Donald Trump for “indefensible budget cuts,” appointing staff openly hostile to the agency, “denying fundamental climate science” and giving coal miners false hopes that their jobs will be coming back.
“This is the first time I remember staff openly dismissing and mocking the environmental policies of an Administration and by extension you, the individual selected to implement the policies,” Cox wrote to Pruitt.
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Cox called morale the lowest since he first went to work for the EPA in 1987, and took Pruitt to task for speeches that “demonize the EPA, by association career staff.”
The letter has been republished on numerous news sites, including The Washington Post.
Cox told The Seattle Times that he spent several days writing the letter at his Bainbridge Island home, then emailed it to Pruitt on his last day of work just before he handed in his badge.
Cox, through email, also shared the letter with hundreds of other EPA staffers who work at the Seattle Region 10 office, and said he has had a positive response from those still in the agency.
“I have had people thanking me for voicing concerns that they can’t, so that has been heartening,” Cox said.
Cox said his own retirement had been long planned even before Trump’s election, and that he’s not aware of any big exodus of EPA staff from the Seattle office. Instead, he thinks people are “kind of waiting and seeing what is going to happen.”
An EPA spokesman in Washington said the agency doesn’t comment on personnel, and also declined to comment on whether Pruitt had read the letter.
Cox, who holds a master’s degree in public health and toxicology, said he first started working for the EPA in 1987 in Washington, D.C., and left the agency several times to work in Africa as well as for the city of Seattle.
In his last job — he commuted each day via ferry and his bike — his work involved helping other agency staff consider the impacts of climate change.
Pruitt, in a March CNBC interview, questioned whether carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. He said that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
In his exit letter, Cox hit hard on Pruitt’s statements on the science of climate change.
“It was surprising, no shocking, when you stated on national television that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to climate change,” Cox wrote. “You will continue to undermine your credibility and integrity with EPA staff, and the majority of the public, if you continue questioning this basic science of climate change.”
Cox said he remains hopeful that Congress will not agree to the full scope of proposed budget cuts for the EPA, which would reduce funding by some 31 percent, including a proposal to eliminate federal grants that help restore Puget Sound.
In retirement, Cox said he hopes to do volunteer work in Africa and also will stay involved in climate-change issues in Washington state.