Donald Trump has tapped a controversial appointee to lead the transition for the Environmental Protection Agency. Myron Ebell, a skeptic of climate change and advocate for business interests, will lead the EPA transition and could become secretary. Trump had promised to weaken the agency if elected, and the appointment of Ebell is a sign that he is moving in that direction.
That move comes as the EPA is under fire from Northeast Texas lawmakers for delays in approving a reservoir in Fannin County. But Rep. John Ratcliffe believes the election result is good news for supporters of the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir. Ratcliffe said in an interview that Trump had offered him support for legislation weakening federal regulators like the EPA.
John Ratcliffe: I’ve had a conversation with Donald Trump. That if he’s in the White House, he’s indicated to me that he would be supportive and would sign that bill into law. And that would go a long way to helping small business owners, bankers, farmers, folks all across the fourth congressional district with the regulatory burdens that they’re facing right now.
George Hale: The bill is H.R. 4768. It passed the House in July and is awaiting Senate approval. The Obama administration strongly opposes it, saying it would overrule decades of Supreme Court precedent, is not in the public interest, and would add needless complexity and delay to judicial review of regulatory actions. The administration also believes experts in the relevant agencies should be the ones to determine environmental impact. Ratcliffe says the problem with that is the public doesn’t get a say.
Ratcliffe: The Separation of Powers Restoration Act would go an incredibly long way towards reducing regulatory red tape in this country. Essentially, it would take the power out of the hands of unelected bureaucrats at agencies like the EPA and the Department of Labor. And it would require courts to interpret Congressional intent … But President Obama has said that if it reaches his desk, he’ll veto it.
Hale: One such case is the proposed Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir in Fannin County. It is on hold as the North Texas Municipal Water District seeks a permit requiring EPA approval. Ratcliffe has written legislation that would push that project forward.
Ratcliffe: The amendment that I introduced … is one that would really hold the EPA’s feet to the fire. One of the problems that we have is people comply with what the EPA requests and then the EPA bureaucrats move the goalposts. And say, well, that’s not good enough. We want some additional studies. And that’s what they’ve tried to do here.
Hale: The EPA has said that it is committed to the project despite the delay in approving it. I asked Ratcliffe if he thought the election of Donald Trump might speed that up a little.
Ratcliffe: I do. Donald Trump has talked on the campaign trail about the very same things that I have. You have bureaucrats and federal agencies interfering with large and small business owners. And of course he’s been a very successful businessperson and wants to bring that mentality to the White House and to the executive branch. And boy I will tell you that would be a breath of fresh air based on what I’ve been dealing with in my last two years in Congress, and what we’ve been dealing with as a country for the last eight years of President Obama.
Hale: Ratcliffe said he had spoken to constituents in his district who were expecting to lose land under the lake. But he told me many more people wanted the project to be built than didn’t.
Ratcliffe: I have. I’ve had a number of conversations with folks. And that’s where my responsibility is. … And anytime there’s a decision you’re going to have some folks who like it and some folks who don’t. What I’ve tried to do is listen to folks in and around Fannin County. It would appear that an overwhelming majority look favorably upon the opportunities that Bois d’Arc reservoir would bring to Fannin County in terms of economic development and other economic opportunities.
Hale: NPR this week obtained a document indicating that Donald Trump was planning to appoint climate change-denier Myron Ebell to lead the EPA transition. That’s a good first sign that he may be sticking close to his past commitments to weaken the EPA or get rid of it entirely after Inauguration Day. Whatever impact that might have on projects like the Lower Bois d’Arc Reservoir still isn't clear. But critics of the EPA — and supporters of the lake — are celebrating.
Ratcliffe: You know, it’s proceeding along. We don’t know at this point whether or not the lake will be constructed. But my goal and role in this thing is to make sure agencies like the EPA don’t interfere with what the people in Fannin County want to accomplish.
Hale: That was Congressman John Ratcliffe, who represents around 700,000 residents across northeast Texas. For KETR, I’m George Hale.