I have a confession. I don’t like numbers. When people start talking figures and statistics, I tune out. But here’s one that caught my attention: $56,765. No, it’s not a payout from my NCAA bracket; I don’t gamble or have a NCAA bracket. And it’s not the amount of money gone from my retirement account after this past Friday’s rocky day on Wall Street. (As far as I know-I’m afraid to look.) $56,765 is the pay raise that senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt was supposedly promised by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
$56,765. Let that sink in. Now let’s put that into a little perspective. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 the median household income in the United States was $59,039. Unless you’re Latinx, then it was $42,500 or black with $39,490. If you’re a woman age 45-54, your median income was estimated at $44,252. (Of course if you’re a man in that same age group, it’s 20% higher.) $56,765 is more than half of the total average yearly salary of a government employee. What can you do with $56,765? It could almost pay for you to go to Harvard for a year. You could get yourself and some friends 3,547 pizzas with a few slices to spare, and a retired couple could pay for over 4 years worth of supplemental health insurance, not including dentures. You get my point.
The stories swirling around Scott Pruitt continue to come out, each one more egregious than the last. What’s happening at the agency is nothing short of criminal. But we’re not surprised, are we? Like a lot of things with this administration, we knew what we were getting going in. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt opposed abortion rights, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act, and described himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda”. Pruitt wasn’t kidding. As OK AG, he sued the EPA 14 times. He’s also a climate change denier who doesn’t believe carbon dioxide emissions contribute to global warming. Another clue that putting Pruitt at the helm of the EPA would be like putting Count Dracula in charge of a blood bank is that fact that he received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry in his bid for attorney general in Oklahoma.
From the outset, Pruitt with Trump’s blessing has been not so quietly dismantling the agency he represents. It’s what they really mean when they talk about “draining the swamp”. I had the opportunity recently to speak to two individuals who just retired from long careers in government; one of them in the National Park Service, the other at the EPA. Their stories were chilling but similar. Both lamented what was happening within their respective agencies. One talked of dramatic cuts in funding to clean up Superfund sites and legal maneuvering that would serve to benefit the polluters. Lack of science-based decision making was also a common complaint. Worst of all, putting that outrageous $57, 765 raise aside, there are rumblings of cuts in salaries, benefits, and pensions. All of which leads to dedicated public servants leaving or retiring early. In turn, job seekers may ask themselves, “Do I really want to work in that environment?” The agencies can’t fill positions, positions get cut, and the agency shrinks and fails. Call me paranoid, but it sounds like a plan.
Astronomical pay increases for two of his cronies are just some of the charges leveled at Pruitt. As of this writing, there are reports coming out that emails have surfaced showing he lied about knowing of the raises. Pruitt is also under fire for his extravagant expenditures as EPA administrator, such as chartered private jets, a larger than normal security detail, and a $43,000 sound proof booth in his office that he claims protects him from eavesdroppers. There are also possible ethics violations being looked at having to do with Pruitt’s rental fee of $50 a night for a luxury townhouse owned by lobbyists representing industries regulated by the EPA. The list goes on and on, but remember-I’m an arithmophobic, and these babies are truly scary.
posted by Amy Levengood
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