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The New Appointees: What Donald Trump’s Choices for his Cabinet Say to Me

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower on Dec. 7, 2016 in New York City to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As the owner of an environmental, health and safety consulting business, you can bet that I’ve been carefully monitoring the president-elect’s transition process, especially given his campaign promises to reduce regulation. I’ve been waiting for clues that could signal how his administration intends to approach EHS regulation, especially as it applies to small manufacturing, construction and general industry businesses. 

I especially have been interested to see who he appoints to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor, since these obviously are the agencies tasked with dictating, managing and enforcing EHS regulations.  The appointees, and their respective attitudes and records on these issues, should be very telling.

As of late last week, those appointees finally have been made and appear to speak loudly as to the likely intentions of Donald Trump’s administration. I’ve spent a little time researching both appointees, and what I’ve learned is very worrying for me and to those of us who are concerned about protecting our local communities, the environment and workplace safety.     

Consistent Pattern

In recent weeks, Trump has demonstrated a very consistent pattern: appointing agency leaders whose attitudes and records clearly oppose and potentially undermine the very purpose and values of the departments they’ve been chosen to lead. 

Betsy DeVos who was tapped as education secretary, favors private education over the public school system that her agency is charged with running. The Department of Housing & Urban Development will be lead by Ben Carson, who opposes social welfare programs and fair housing policies that the agency promotes and relies on to succeed. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been chosen to run the Department Of Energy, a department that he famously claimed to want to eliminate during his presidential campaign (but then forgot the agency’s name during a debate).

This ominous, and puzzling pattern continues with Trump’s EPA and DOL choices. Here is what I’ve learned about those appointees:

Environmental Protection Agency Appointee: Scott Pruitt

Pruitt is a Republican, currently holds the office of Oklahoma Attorney General and is a long-time opponent of the EPA and a climate change skeptic. As attorney general, he’s actually sued the EPA and has been described as a “key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies.” In addition, he’s a noted ally and alleged lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry.

Pruitt offered the following quote to summarize his intentions: “Americans are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American business.”

Trump added, ““My administration strongly believes in environmental protection, and Scott Pruitt will be a powerful advocate for that mission while promoting jobs, safety and opportunity.”

A less optimistic opinion was offered by Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, who said: “Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”

Department of Labor Appointee:  Andrew Puzder

Puzder also is a Republican, and was a key contributor and senior advisor to the Trump campaign. He currently is the CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., which operates the Carl’s Jr. and Hardees fast food chains, and is a multi-millionaire, joining the ranks of other super-wealthy Trump appointees. 

Puzder is pro-immigration and an outspoken supporter of an open border policy, and had this to say: “The GOP needs to end the family drama and resolve the policy dispute, not least because it is the right thing to do in every sense – economically, politically and morally.” (This is obviously in major opposition to one of Trump’s major campaign positions.)

He also is an ardent opponent of higher minimum wage and overtime proposals. Both of these positions make perfect sense given his leadership role at a fast food empire. On a related note, he co-wrote book called “Job Creation: How it Really Works and Why Government Doesn’t Understand It.”

Puzder has been widely criticized for risqué Carl’s Jr. advertising campaign featuring scantily clad women eating hamburgers, and offered this response: “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.”

I’ve been unable to find any direct quotes from Puzder on how he intends to run the DOL, however President-Elect Trump had this to say: “Andy will fight to make American workers safer and more prosperous by enforcing fair occupational safety standards and ensuring workers receive the benefits they deserve, and he will save small businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations that are stunting job growth and suppressing wages.” 

In a separate statement, his administration praised Puzder for a “record fighting for workers” and said he would ensure occupational safety standards were followed.

As with Pruitt, Puzder has his critics. Christine Owens, executive director of NELP, a national advocacy group for low wage workers, had this to say: “It’s hard to think of anyone less-suited for the job of lifting up America’s forgotten workers” and “Puzder will be there for his low-wage-industry CEO buddies, who are now salivating over the prospect of rolling back the Obama administration’s efforts to raise pay for low-wage workers, improve workplace safety and increase corporate accountability.” 

American Bridge, a liberal advocacy group, added, ”In Andrew Puzder, Trump found a labor secretary that would help him roll back the minimum wage, end the overtime rule that will raise wages for millions, weaken safeguards for workers and to wipe out unions.”

So there you have it, my “quick and dirty” on both appointees.  They’re both clearly anti-regulation crusaders, but on the other hand, Trump’s quotes appear to signal an agenda aimed towards protecting the environment and workplace health and safety.  Never forget that Trump was known as a “Manhattan liberal” in past decades, so maybe he actually supports these ideals, but if so why would he choose these appointees?  What are we supposed to believe and what can we expect?

Many manufacturing, construction and industrial business leaders in the “anti-regulation camp” likely are jumping for joy and believing that they finally can stop worrying about their EHS compliance condition and focus their time and resources on other things. They might want to think again…

As Denzel Washington’s character proclaimed in the movie “Training Day,” “This ain’t checkers, it’s chess!!” President Barack Obama said that soon after taking office, he realized that “The federal government and our democracy is a not a speedboat, it is an ocean liner.”

“This office has a way of waking you up,” he added.

When speaking about Trump, Obama said, “Those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quickly, because reality has a way of asserting itself.” 

Recall Obama’s campaign promises to create a long term-stable clean energy policy, immigration reform, create an emissions cap and trade system to combat climate change, closing the Guantanamo bay prison, etc., none of which materialized and you understand what Trump and his cabinet appointees are facing.

While Trump and his appointees are promising change and “regulation rollback,” it’s not going to be easy and there’s no guarantee of success.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the facts and political realities likely to confront Trump and his appointees which should shed light on what’s likely to shape future action, inaction and results from the administration regarding environmental, health and safety regulations.

Russell Carr is an entrepreneur and president of Berg Compliance Solutions, LLC, an environmental, health and safety consulting business located in Austin, TX.  He previously owned and operated three small industrial service companies, each of which operated in extremely dangerous environments that exposed his employees to a wide range of significant health and safety hazards on a regular basis. He learned early and quickly the critical importance of managing EHS issues so as to ensure the well being of his employees, as well as minimizing risks associated with the businesses. He also learned how difficult and challenging managing these issues can be.  These experiences inspired him to found Berg Compliance Solutions, LLC that specializes in helping small manufacturing, construction and industrial services companies manage EHS compliance. Carr has over 18 years of combined RCRA, DOT, OSHA, DOT & TCEQ/EPA compliance experience and has served as an expert witness in environmental enforcement cases. He can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 512-457-0374. Read other blog posts from Carr.

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