How Republican EPA chiefs got to ‘yes’ on Clinton

By Kevin Bogardus | 08/09/2016 01:17 PM EDT

William Reilly admits it wasn’t a hard sell.

Reilly, President George H.W. Bush’s U.S. EPA administrator and a registered Republican, is a believer in climate change science and smart government regulation that he argues has provided clean air and water for the United States alongside a growing economy. So when he received an email last week from Carol Browner, another former EPA chief, that inquired about supporting the Democrats’ choice for president, Hillary Clinton, Reilly said he was ready to vote against his party’s pick, Donald Trump.

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

"It was a very soft pitch. It was, ‘Would you guys be interested in making a statement?’ It could be negative to Trump and positive to Hillary. It was not a hard sell," Reilly told Greenwire after hearing from Browner, who served under President Clinton.

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William Ruckelshaus, who was EPA’s first administrator under President Nixon and then again under President Reagan, has joined Reilly in his support of Hillary Clinton. The ex-EPA leader told Greenwire that "you have an obligation to speak out."

"In the past, I have been against some candidate but didn’t say anything. But this is different," Ruckelshaus said when it came to Trump potentially winning the White House.

Regarding his endorsement of Clinton, Ruckelshaus added that he and Reilly "were both thinking about doing this, and it just made sense doing this now."

What resulted was a joint statement by Reilly and Ruckelshaus released by Clinton’s campaign today that took apart Trump and endorsed the former New York senator and secretary of State for president (ClimateWire, Aug. 9).

"Donald Trump has shown a profound ignorance of science and of the public health issues embodied in our environmental laws. He hasn’t a clue about Republicans’ historic contributions to science-driven environmental policy," said the two ex-EPA chiefs in the statement.

Reilly and Ruckelshaus said Trump’s disbelief in climate change and pulling back from the Paris climate agreement that was negotiated by the Obama administration last year would be a step backward.

William Ruckelshaus
William Ruckelshaus. | Photo courtesy of the University of Wyoming.

"We Republicans should be shocked, outraged even, at the prospect that all this progress, this legacy will be repudiated and rolled back by Donald Trump. This is a hugely consequential election; the stakes are that high. That is why as Republicans, we support Hillary Clinton for President."

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The two former Republican EPA administrators have not been in line with their party’s positions on the environment for some time now. They have called for action on climate change and defended EPA, often a target of GOP criticism.

In addition, Reilly and Ruckelshaus filed a legal brief in support of the agency’s Clean Power Plan, which looks to reduce power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions (Greenwire, March 31). The rule has been under Republican attack on Capitol Hill and now has been stalled under a Supreme Court-ordered stay.

In contrast, Trump has been no fan of environmental regulation. He has been critical of EPA on the campaign trail, even vowing to eliminate the agency, and called climate change a hoax. Those sentiments by the GOP candidate led to Reilly and Ruckelshaus supporting his Democratic opponent.

"I could never see myself voting for Trump. He is a know-nothing, and his instincts are wrong," Reilly said.

Reilly said he had discussions with someone close to Trump’s campaign and was told not to believe everything the real estate tycoon and reality television star said this election year.

"What was put out to me is that he doesn’t mean this stuff, he had to win a primary," Reilly said.

Ruckelshaus had similar feelings, noting that Trump "doesn’t know anything about these issues, and he doesn’t learn anything, either."

"He shoots from the hip and sticks to it despite what evidence he might find to the contrary," said the first EPA chief.

Reilly and Ruckelshaus now join a growing list of prominent Republican figures who plan not to vote for Trump. Reilly said that should lead others in the party to rethink their support for the candidate.

"All these Republicans coming out for Hillary, it has got to cause anyone on the fence to think about this," Reilly said. "It has been a hateful, divisive campaign. There are so many reasons to not vote for this guy beyond climate."

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