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Former EPA Regional Administrator Urges Colleagues To "Fight Back"

Mike Groll
Former Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck speaks during a news conference in Fort Edward, N.Y., in 2011.

The former regional administrator of the EPA under President Obama, Judith Enck, says the new head of the EPA under President Trump, Scott Pruitt, threatens to roll back major environmental regulations, including climate change actions and pollution protections. 

Enck, in an interview with Karen DeWitt for public radio and television, explains why she took the unprecedented step of signing on to a letter, along with hundreds of former EPA staff, protesting Pruitt. 

Enck says in her final speech to her staff at EPA, before she resigned to become the visiting scholar at Pace University Law School, she urged them to be respectful, but to “fight back internally,” if they are asked to not enforce environmental laws or “turn a blind eye” to evidence of drinking water pollution, and then decide what they should do if their efforts don’t succeed. Enck told the career scientists and others remaining at EPA to “get familiar with the federal whistle blower law.”

Enck, who worked for a time as former attorney general and Governor Eliot Spitzer’s environmental advisor, says Spitzer formed the template for state attorneys general suing the federal EPA, bringing court action 15 times against the Bush administration. Pruitt, as Oklahoma attorney general, sued the EPA 14 times. The current New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is poised to use those lessons to fight in court against any rollbacks from the Trump EPA.

Enck also says her main criticism of the EPA is it moves too slowly.

The former EPA administrator also commented on Governor Cuomo’s energy plan, to get 50 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2030 as a “step in the right direction,” but she disagrees with an $8 billion plan to finance upstate nuclear power plants, while Cuomo is at the same time pushing to close the downstate Indian Point nuclear power plant.

Enck, who was the first official to tell people in the village of Hoosick Falls not to drink the water, when PFOAs were discovered there, says she doubts her successor in the Trump EPA would be that proactive.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.