A longtime business associate of Donald Trump has two words for what the 2016 Republican presidential nominee wants in a U.S. EPA administrator.
"Practical environmentalism," Ed Russo said in an interview with Greenwire. "Not radical environmentalism."
Russo has done environmental consulting for Trump Organization golf courses and other properties across the United States and Europe. The Key West, Fla., resident is also a supporter of local environmental groups and has emerged as one of the Republican presidential nominee's biggest boosters, self-publishing a tome defending the candidate's environmental record titled "Donald J. Trump: An Environmental Hero."
Russo believes Trump would return EPA to simpler, more domestic goals as an environmental agency, downplaying President Obama's securing of a historic international climate change agreement last year.
"He [Trump] has a very practical approach. Obama goes to Paris and gets this climate change deal, but what did he actually get?" Russo said. "Donald Trump's point over and over again is you need clean air and clean water. And then everything else fixes itself."
Trump himself has espoused that view on the campaign trail.
Speaking at an energy conference in Pittsburgh last Thursday, the GOP nominee said that "true specialists in conservation, not those with radical political agendas," would guide his environmental policies. He also pledged to void several of the Obama administration's major environmental regulations, including EPA's Clean Power Plan and its Waters of the U.S. rule (E&E Daily, Sept. 23).
The real estate tycoon and reality television star has picked a foe of EPA regulation, Myron Ebell with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, to head his transition effort for EPA (E&E Daily, Sept. 26).
The Ebell pick isn't popular with environmental groups already opposed to Trump's environmental views (see related story). On the campaign trail, he has pushed for the expanded use of fossil fuels, including reviving the coal industry, while questioning the science behind climate change and ridiculing EPA. Earlier this year, past GOP officials from the agency were wary of taking jobs in a Trump administration over the nominee's campaign rhetoric (Greenwire, May 20).
Green groups have thrown their support to Trump's Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She has promised to uphold EPA's controversial rules such as the Clean Power Plan and invest billions of dollars in renewable energy if she wins the White House.
Regarding EPA, Clinton could follow her Democratic predecessors and choose someone with a record of state environmental agency service for the agency's top job (Greenwire, Aug. 11).
While Trump has not earned support from environmentalists, Russo has championed Trump's green bona fides. He lamented that environmentalism had become a liberal cause instead of a conservative one.
"When pollution seeps across onto your property, that is infringing upon your property rights, which is a conservative value," Russo said. The consultant believes Trump would focus on pragmatic goals with EPA as president, noting, "The time for make-believe environmental work is gone.
"I know what he [Trump] has pushed me to do, which is this practical environmentalism of clean air and clean water, and that is what he will look for and get rid of unneeded regulation," Russo said. "You have to work every day on cleaning the water and making our water quality better, not go to Paris for a photo-op. That accomplished nothing."
'Mirror opposite' of Obama's EPA
EPA itself could be under threat if Trump wins the White House. At their convention this July, Republican delegates approved language in the party's platform that would shift EPA's authority to state environmental regulators and devolve the federal agency into a "bipartisan commission" (Greenwire, July 20).
Former EPA officials from past Republican administrations said the agency would not disappear under a President Trump, but big changes would be in the offing.
"Given [Trump's] business background and his ideas for cutting through red tape, I think you would see a strong supporter of the states as incubators of technology and innovation," said Brent Fewell, former deputy chief of EPA's Office of Water in the George W. Bush administration.
Fewell, founder of the environmental law firm Earth & Water Group, added that Trump "would redefine EPA's role when it comes to environmental protection vis-à-vis the states."
Marianne Horinko, who served as EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response from 2001 to 2004, said she believes Trump will see "economic value" in the agency's various cleanup programs.
"Being on the campaign trail is one thing. Governing is another thing. He's a businessman," said Horinko, now president of the Horinko Group. "He's pragmatic. He will understand there are a number of things that the agency does that is helpful to the economy, and I don't think he will tamp down on that."
Along with Ebell heading the EPA transition team, Trump has also tapped Mike Catanzaro, a lobbyist at the CGCN Group, to help lead his transition on energy and environmental policies (Greenwire, Sept. 14).
Catanzaro, a former associate deputy administrator at EPA, may be one potential pick to lead the agency if Trump wins in November. Other Bush-era EPA executives like past Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock, as well as ex-Air and Radiation Chief Jeff Holmstead and Ann Klee, a former agency general counsel, could be in the mix, as well.
The businessman could also look elsewhere other than former EPA staff to lead the agency.
"If Trump is elected, he will have a very strong set of seasoned policymakers and agency managers from prior Republican administrations and the states," said one former senior Bush administration official. "In the terms of the bench, there are very capable people that exist."
Other possibilities mentioned for Trump's EPA chief are Craig Butler, director of Ohio EPA, and Kathleen Hartnett White, former head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Some of the agency's more high-profile opponents — such as West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and retiring Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) — may enter Trump's consideration to lead EPA.
"You are going to want to have someone who has had state experience, who really understands the issues and has had to deal with an overreaching EPA as a federal agency," said George "David" Banks, executive vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation and a Trump supporter. "If they do tap a state-level agency director, you would think of someone from an energy patch or Rust Belt state."
Each of those potential picks for the EPA job has his or her supporters, too. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) remains a booster of Butler, even though the state regulator has dismissed talk of him leading the federal agency (Greenwire, July 21).
"There is no more solid and sound, practical EPA leader in the country that I know of than Craig Butler," Johnson said. "He understands the need to protect the environment, to keep our water clean, to keep our air clean, but at the same time, he understands how to work with business and industry to find solutions that work for everybody."
Other Republicans are just hoping for a change of direction for EPA under a possible Trump administration.
"Look at [EPA Administrator] Gina McCarthy and find the mirror opposite of her, and you've got the perfect person," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Yet as of now, it is not clear who is in the running for the EPA job under a President Trump. His campaign did not respond to messages asking for comment for this story.
At least one individual is not preparing to head to Washington, D.C., to work in a Trump administration: Russo.
"Once you get to Key West, you don't want to leave it for any reason," Russo said, though he offered a caveat.
"But I would do anything that the president asked me to do."
Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.