“This Was a Hostile Takeover”: How the War on the EPA Was Waged

October 11, 2017
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by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

Yesterday, the Trump administration took its first formal step towards repealing the Clean Power Plan — President Obama’s signature domestic effort in the fight against climate change, aimed at cutting emissions from fossil fuels that scientists agree are contributing to global warming.

To anyone following Trump’s campaign-trail vow to end what he described as “the war on coal,” the move shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Tonight’s new FRONTLINE documentary, War on the EPA, tells the inside story of how this and other environmental policy rollbacks happened; how Scott Pruitt went from suing the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times, to now running it; and how the anti-regulatory and anti-climate change science movements in America reached this moment of triumph. 

“It was eight years of pure hell under the democrat party and Obama,” Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., tells FRONTLINE in the above excerpt from War on the EPA. “But we won! It’s a wonderful victory.”

As the film explores, Murray, a key industry voice, was in the room at the EPA last March when Trump signed an executive order instructing Pruitt to unravel the Clean Power Plan — a fact that that didn’t go unnoticed by longtime staffers at the agency.

“I would say that people were really devastated by that,” Betsy Southerland, the highest-ranking former EPA staffer to work under Pruitt and then speak on television with criticisms of him, tells FRONTLINE. “That it was considered to be, really an open slap in our face.”

With access to key players involved in the issue, War on the EPA tells the story of how combatting perceived federal overreach by the EPA became a popular conservative cause.

It unpacks the events that led to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, and ultimately, to this week’s action on the Clean Power Plan. It’s a gripping, must-watch exploration of how we reached this point.

“In working for both Bushes and for Clinton and Obama, I can say that no previous administration has done what the Trump administration is doing at EPA now,” Southerland says in the above excerpt. “There is a clear and present danger to public health and safety in this country.”

War on the EPA premieres Wednesday, October 11 at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on PBS stations (check local listings) and online at pbs.org/frontline.

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