At EPA mu­seum, his­tory might be in for a change with Pruitt

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Juliet Eilperin and Brady Den­nis Melina Mara, The Wash­ing­ton Post

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.”

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