Former Republican officials wary of taking Trump jobs

By Kevin Bogardus | 05/20/2016 01:10 PM EDT

Who wants to work for Donald Trump’s U.S. EPA? Don’t all raise a hand at once.

Who wants to work for Donald Trump’s U.S. EPA? Don’t all raise a hand at once.

Former EPA Republican political appointees told Greenwire they are wary of signing up for a future administration under their party’s presumptive 2016 presidential nominee. The reality television star and real estate tycoon has ridiculed EPA on the campaign trail and pledged to reduce its authority once in the White House.

Brent Fewell, former deputy chief of EPA’s Office of Water in the George W. Bush administration, said there has been much discussion about The Donald among his former EPA colleagues as well as those who served in the Reagan administration. It’s "a mixed bag" whether many former top-level EPA officials would answer the call to serve under a President Trump, he said.


"I think if I was called, I would consider it. But if the cause was to dismantle EPA, then the answer would be ‘hell no,’" said Fewell, founder of the environmental law firm Earth & Water Group. "There is a real clear divide like you have seen in the rest of the Republican Party. People are either for or very against Trump."

If in office again, former Bush EPA officials likely would take a new tack away from the controversial air and water regulations that have been proposed by the agency under Democratic control. Nevertheless, the prospect of a Trump administration would cause several to hesitate in joining EPA again.

"I don’t know of any other serious policy folks who have any interest in working for Mr. Trump. It will be interesting to see if he actually becomes president. I can’t imagine working for the guy," said one former EPA Republican official. "I’m no fan of the Clean Power Plan, but that doesn’t make me comfortable working for Mr. Trump."

Former Republican appointees to EPA also said they can’t tell what Trump wants to do with the agency if he is elected president.

"No one has any idea in what he is interested in doing," the former official said about Trump’s plans for EPA, noting that other GOP presidential campaigns had policy shops and experienced aides in place who could craft their candidates’ vision for energy and environmental policy.

"They had people on their campaign who could speak to energy and environmental issues, who had experience, like the Romney campaigns, the Bush campaigns, but I don’t know who that is on their campaign," the ex-official said about Trump’s camp. "It’s completely different from any Republican presidential campaign."

Fewell likewise said the Trump campaign was like "a black box" for former EPA Republican political appointees.

"There were a number of us — former Bushies, Reagan alums — that acted like a clearinghouse, providing policy advice to all of the [Republican] candidates. To my knowledge, we never heard from Trump or anyone in Trump’s camp. Trump was kind of a black box," Fewell said.

Many former top political hands at EPA were reluctant to talk about a future Trump administration. Several did not return messages or declined to comment when asked by Greenwire whether they would work at Trump’s EPA.

Some former Bush administration officials, however, said they would be excited about serving a President Trump.

"If Mr. Trump asked me to work at EPA, I would do so with enthusiasm," said George David Banks, a former White House climate aide for Bush and a Trump supporter.

Banks was nominated to be EPA’s assistant administrator for international activities in the final days of the last Bush administration, but his nomination failed to advance. Banks said if individuals are asked to work in the federal government, they should jump at the chance.

"I think a lot of people forget where their loyalty should lay, which should be to the Republic," Banks said. "If you get a chance to serve, you should serve."

Despite that wariness for Trump among his ex-agency colleagues, one former EPA Republican appointee predicted several of them will be eager to join his administration as the general election draws closer.

"Gimme a break. If Trump wins, my impression is that a lot of former Bush folks will be lining up at the transition’s door to work at any number of federal agencies," said the former EPA political appointee.

"Once Trump makes more amends with establishment types, you will see more people come out with a willingness to support him and then eventually work in his administration. … It is going to happen," the appointee said. "It will take some time, but it will happen."

Christine Todd Whitman
Christine Todd Whitman. | Photo courtesy of E&ETV.

But Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican New Jersey governor and EPA administrator under Bush, predicted Trump would struggle to fill EPA’s ranks with high-quality officials if he was elected president.

"He will find people. People want to be part of the action. They may not like him, but they will suck it up. To say you’re part of a national administration, that attracts people," Whitman said. "The quality of those people and dedication to the mission of the agency may be a different question."

Whitman said former EPA officials are not enthusiastic about Trump’s ascent to the top of the GOP.

"It’s pretty depressing when you talk to people from EPA," Whitman said. "There is pretty universal dislike of Trump where he is coming on these issues, even among Republicans. If you have worked at that agency, you do really care about human health and the environment."

Ex-EPA chiefs doubt Trump

Whitman has not held back against Trump during the campaign.

"He is a bully, that he is, and a good salesman," said Whitman, who endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) for president in the 2016 race.

Other past EPA administrators who served under Republican presidents also are critical of Trump.

William Reilly, who was EPA chief under President George H.W. Bush, said he wants to hear more from the presidential candidate.

"I will want to know about his commitment to eliminate EPA, what if anything he will do about climate change, which he has said he doesn’t take very seriously, whether he will honor the commitments made on climate by the U.S. in Paris," Reilly said in an email to Greenwire.

William K. Reilly
William K. Reilly. | Photo courtesy of E&E TV.

The former EPA administrator also wondered if Trump would lead in finding funding for wind and solar energy in the developing world as well as building on foreign aid in support of global health. Reilly said Trump should recognize the accomplishments of environmental law in bringing about a healthier, more prosperous planet.

"A basic question is at what point can Trump — whose campaign has been built on a claim that the U.S. is virtually a failed state — at what point will he be willing to recognize that in environmental policy and foreign development assistance the U.S. has been demonstrably, hugely successful," Reilly said.

"The economy has grown threefold since the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act were enacted, and most pollutants are down 70 or more percent, in some case 95 percent," he said. "And the quality of life is everywhere improved."

Trump has begun to flesh out his policy positions more when it comes to the environment. The Republican presidential candidate has said recently that he would renegotiate the Paris climate agreement and that he stands opposed to a carbon tax (E&E Daily, May 18).

William Ruckelshaus, EPA’s first administrator who served under President Nixon and later President Reagan, declined to comment on how the agency would fare under a Trump administration. Ruckelshaus, however, did mention via a spokeswoman that he and other EPA chiefs filed a legal brief in support of the Clean Power Plan, which shows their thinking about the future of energy and EPA (Greenwire, March 31).

A President Trump also would have to win over the federal workforce if elected to the White House. Career civil servants have a poor perception of the businessman.

A quarter of federal employees surveyed in a Government Business Council poll said they would consider leaving government service if the business magnate was elected to the White House. In addition, union representatives for EPA workers told Greenwire that they were anxious about what a President Trump would mean for the agency (Greenwire, May 12).

Transition team

Trump has begun to beef up his campaign and transition team as he prepares for the general election race, where he likely will run against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate.

Trump has picked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) as chairman of his transition team. In addition, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) has emerged as a key adviser on energy policy for Trump, opening the door for himself to be Energy secretary (E&E Daily, May 13).

Trump’s campaign is also expected to flesh out its policy team with Capitol Hill aides. An outreach effort is underway as well to free-market thinkers, such as Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance (E&E Daily, May 13).

Others are willing to help Trump too, including the former EPA Republican political appointee.

"If folks ask for policy advice and guidance, sure, I would give it to them. I would be a fool not to," said the ex-EPA appointee. He noted that "a Trump EPA, from our Republican perspective, would be pretty good," rolling back regulations like the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.

"Where do people get this notion that Trump is going to dismantle the agency? That’s not going to happen. He may have said something like that in a moment of excitement. What he is going to do is roll back regulations from the Obama administration," said the former political appointee.

Banks, the former George W. Bush climate aide, said Trump’s statements about EPA should be viewed as a businessman working to secure the best deal.

"When he says something like ‘I’m going to shut down EPA,’ people should step back and say is he actually negotiating with us now?" Banks said.

"We all want clean air. We all want clean water. No one is going to shut down EPA, but there is definitely a need for regulatory reform across the government. … Think about it from a negotiating perspective, an ‘Art of the Deal’ perspective."

It remains to be seen who would serve in a Trump administration, including at EPA.

Trump campaign representatives did not respond to several messages asking whom the candidate is considering to lead the agency. Further, asked if he was considering any other individuals to fill out Trump’s Cabinet, Cramer said that he was not.

"There are a lot of really smart people, I’m sure, but no, I’m not," Cramer said.

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.