EPA Staff Pulled From Alaska Summit After Trump Team Orders

Feb 10, 2017
Originally published on February 10, 2017 6:35 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

An annual environmental conference wraps up in Alaska today with a big difference from years past. Half of the EPA officials who were supposed to be there were told not to go by President Trump's transition team. Rachel Waldholz of Alaska Public Media reports.

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RACHEL WALDHOLZ, BYLINE: Many conference-goers in Anchorage weren't aware of the change as they shook snow off their boots and browsed exhibits on wonky topics like solid waste management. The Alaska Forum on the Environment draws more than a thousand people each year to discuss issues from water and sewer systems to climate change.

Thirty-four employees from the EPA were scheduled to attend, but forum director Kurt Eilo got a call just days before the conference opened saying only 17 would be coming.

KURT EILO: We were informed that EPA was directed by the White House transition team to minimize their participation in the Alaska Forum on the Environment to the extent possible.

WALDHOLZ: In a statement, EPA transition official Doug Ericksen said it was an effort to limit excessive travel costs and save taxpayer money, but some EPA staff pulled from the event are based just blocks away in downtown Anchorage.

Organizer Eilo says the EPA worked hard to avoid disrupting the conference, and only one of more than a hundred sessions had to be canceled. Still, he says this adds to a list of concerns. President Trump's pick to lead the EPA has at times questioned the science behind climate change and sued to stop EPA programs.

EILO: There's a lot of uncertainty amongst the folks here at the forum. There is concern about their tribal programs. There's concern about how we're going to address things like climate change in the next upcoming administration.

WALDHOLZ: In rural Alaska, the EPA partners with tribes to help pay for basic services like landfill cleanup and safe drinking water. Now Eilo says people worry the travel cutback could be a sign of bigger and more painful budget cuts to come. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Waldholz in Anchorage.

SIEGEL: That story comes to us from Alaska's Energy Desk, a public media collaboration focused on energy and the environment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.