At EPA museum, history might be in for a change with Pruitt
WASHINGTON» Scott Pruitt has repeated a particular line again and again since becoming the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. “The future ain’t what it used to be at the EPA,” he is fond of saying.
As it turns out, the past may not be what it once was, either.
In an obscure corner of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building, a debate is underway about how to tell the story of the EPA’s history and mission.
A miniature museum that began as a pet project of former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has come under scrutiny. It features the agency’s work over 4½ decades, with exhibit topics such as regulating carbon dioxide emissions and the Paris climate accord. The Obama administration championed such efforts, but President Donald Trump’s policies are at odds with them.
Now the museum, which opened just days before former President Barack Obama left office, is being reworked to reflect the priorities of the Trump administration, an effort that probably will mean erasing part of the agency’s history.
Unlike other stark changes that have taken place at the EPA since Trump took office, the museum overhaul has not been primarily driven by political appointees. Rather, some of the same career staff members who worked on the exhibits under the Obama administration informed Trump appointees about the museum and that parts of it were not in line with their vision.
“I wanted to make sure that they knew it existed,” said Nancy Grantham, a career public affairs employee at the EPA, who has toured the exhibit with at least one Trump official. “That’s just how I operate. I don’t like to be surprised, and I assume others don’t like to be, either.”
Most people outside the agency aren’t even aware of the one-room exhibit just outside the entrance to the EPA Credit Union, which cost more than $300,000 to assemble and is open to the public each weekday, free of charge. McCarthy cut the ribbon Jan. 17, joined by former and current EPA officials and staff members.
There is no question that parts of the museum reflect an Obama administrationcentric narrative. It includes a panel dedicated to the 2009 “endangerment finding,” in which then-EPA administrator Lisa Jackson concluded that the agency was legally obligated to control greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change because they threatened public health. A separate panel features a Dr. Seuss cartoon-themed poster with the message: “Join the Lorax And Help Protect the Earth From Global Warming.”
The Paris agreement, in which nearly 200 nations pledged to curb their carbon output in December 2015, also has a display panel, which notes that the “EPA is leading global efforts to address climate change.” In June, Trump announced plans to withdraw from the international agreement.
The Clean Power Plan, Obama’s signature effort to regulate carbon emissions and combat climate change, also is prominently displayed. “The CPP shows the world that the United States is committed to address climate change,” the exhibit reads.
Trump signed an executive order in March ordering his deputies to scrap the Clean Power Plan.
A career official said last week that these climate displays are slated to be removed, adding that the agency may add a display of coal to the museum.
Grantham acknowledged that the climate panels probably will be altered, and possibly shelved, although she stressed that no final decisions had been made.
For now, to make sure the current administration is represented, officials have installed a large poster board in the museum, highlighting the agency’s new “back to basics” agenda. It features a picture of Pruitt shaking hands with coal miners at a Pennsylvania mine and promises “sensible regulations for economic growth.”