It would seem to go that agencies and divisions of government with “environmental protection” in their name would seek to pursue that task. However, as elected leaders and their appointed administrators change, so can the missions of those agencies. Environmental advocacy groups must adjust to the changes, especially if they cannot expect cooperation on policy goals from regulators.
That took another turn during the past week with the announcement of a new administrator to head up the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4, an area comprised of eight Southeastern states, including Georgia.
Changes were already afoot at the EPA, now headed up by former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is on the record as rejecting the prevailing scientific theory that human activity is driving climate change, and who sued the EPA 13 different times to block environmental protection measures, including major initiatives of the Obama administration.
Pruitt named former Alabama Department of Environmental Management Director Trey Glenn to take over the Region 4 top spot Aug. 21.
“Trey Glenn will bring invaluable experience as regional administrator having spent over two decades working in the field of environmental and regulatory policy,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Mr. Glenn will help us carry out President Trump’s vision of creating a more streamlined and efficient EPA that focuses on the Agency’s core mission, while also providing more regulatory certainty to our nation’s businesses.”
Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Richard Dunn also lauded the hire.
“We welcome the selection of Trey Glenn and look forward to working with him and the Region 4 team to identify more aligned and mutually supportive efforts to address today’s environmental challenges,” Dunn said in the same EPA news release.
But Glenn comes to the job with significant baggage and allegations of favoritism — along with further alleged illegal activity — from his time in Alabama as head of the state water regulatory body. The Alabama Ethics Commission voted unanimously to refer allegations of ethical impropriety to the Montgomery County district attorney.
Glenn is accused of taking family trips to Walt Disney World in Florida and Hilton Head, S.C., on the dime of a public relations outfit for engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie, a firm regulated by the Alabama Office of Water Resources, and then approved invoices from Malcolm Pirnie while seeking the ADEM position. During the investigation, Glenn — a former Alabama Power engineer — attended a Montgomery Biscuits minor league baseball game with family members as guests of Alabama Power.
He emerged from the process relatively clean, however, as a Montgomery County grand jury chose not to indict, and his attorney said he paid back the PR firm, stating its covering his private plane flights for those trips was the firm’s mistake.
With the backgrounds of those administrators in mind, it might be reasonable to expect the agency to lean toward loosening, streamlining or eliminating regulations rather than taking a more-active environmental enforcement stance. In such a climate, local environmental advocacy groups reassess which methods could yield greater results.
“When a public servant makes a decision to weaken important regulations that protect our clean water and air, the public and the environmental community must work together to minimize and mitigate the effects of the rollbacks,” said Megan Desrosiers, executive director of One Hundred Miles. “Citizens and conservation groups can seek help from local government officials and state legislators, who can pass ordinances and laws to protect resources and community health.
“Environmental groups can also litigate when regulations are rolled back in ways that appear to be noncompliant with federal and state laws. And finally, we all have the power to vote on election day for officials who will appoint leaders dedicated to protecting our quality of life.”
In the recent past, environmental advocates have seen some amount of success through the courts. This is in addition to other methods like public-awareness efforts and close involvement in public comment periods.
“If legal action is anticipated as a possibility, early involvement in individual proposals by making official comments helps strengthen ‘standing’ for the nonprofit organization when it seeks court intervention,” said David Kyler of the Center for a Sustainable Coast. “And, of course, resources supporting court action must be available to make such action feasible — which means either raising a legal fund or having the services of environmental lawyers through groups such as Southern Environmental Law Center or Greenlaw.
“Depending on the number of appeals required, legal fees can accumulate to well over $100,000. Often, several nonprofit groups whose members are adversely affected by inadequate enforcement in a given case may join together in taking legal action.”
These issues are not new. In 2006, the Glynn Environmental Coalition took issue with both the EPA and EPD, saying the agencies should have blocked a planned Whitlock Street asphalt plan from the very beginning, as it would have exacerbated a problem of industrial pollution close to a low-income, minority community.
After a considerable amount of talk and public attention, the plant never came to fruition.