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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/13/17

Mustafa Ali: Meet the Top EPA Environmental Justice Official Who Quit to Protest Pruitt & Trump

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A top official at the Environmental Protection Agency has resigned in protest of a Trump administration proposal to scale back severely the size and work of the agency. Mustafa Ali helped launch the EPA's Office of Environmental Justice in 1992 and served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Up until last week he headed the environmental justice department. He joins us in one of his first interviews since leaving the EPA.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Environmental Protection Agency has been overwhelmed by angry calls in recent days after the agency's new head, Scott Pruitt, said carbon dioxide emissions are not a major contributor to global warming. Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, made the comment during an interview with CNBC host Joe Kernen.

JOE KERNEN: Do you believe that it's been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?

SCOTT PRUITT: No, I -- No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.

JOE KERNEN: OK. All right --

SCOTT PRUITT: But we don't know that yet, as far as -- we need to continue debate and continue the review and the analysis.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, speaking with CNBC host Joe Kernen. Well, Pruitt's comment defies scientific consensus about the laws of physics. The EPA's own website, even in the time of Trump, features a fact sheet declaring, "Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm," unquote.

Well, on Friday, one day after Pruitt made the comment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, revealed that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had risen at a record pace for a second year in row. Meanwhile, President Trump is proposing to cut 25 percent from the EPA's budget and eliminate 3,000 jobs. Trump's plan calls for the complete elimination of EPA programs on climate change, toxic waste cleanup, environmental justice and funding for Native Alaskan villages. It would slash funding to states for clean air and water programs by 30 percent.

Well, we now turn to a longtime EPA staffer who resigned last week to protest the agency's new direction. Mustafa Ali is the former head of the EPA's environmental justice program, which worked with low-income and marginalized communities dealing with industrial pollution and climate change. Ali helped found the office 24 years ago under President George H.W. Bush. He's now working with the Hip Hop Caucus.

Mustafa Ali, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about why you resigned?

MUSTAFA ALI: Oh, yes, and thank you for having me. There were a number of reasons for resigning. One of them was that I felt that the values and priorities of our new administration did not line up with mine in relationship to our vulnerable communities and the work that needed to happen in that space. Secondly, I also had some great concerns about the rolling back of the budgets and the eliminating of offices that have played a significant role in helping to move those vulnerable communities forward. And then, thirdly, when I took a look at some of the proposals for rolling back regulations that have played a significant role in helping to protect the environment and public health of our most vulnerable communities, I just couldn't be a part of that. Those regulations, many of those communities have been working for decades trying to make sure, one, that they're in place, two, that they are more inclusive of protections for their communities and getting traction, being able to move forward.

AMY GOODMAN: The Trump administration has proposed zeroing out the budget of your office, the environmental justice program. Now, this hasn't been approved, but this is the proposal. What exactly, concretely, would that mean? Talk about some of the areas in the country that you've been working on and just what the words and the movement "environmental justice" is.

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