New GOP target at EPA: Graduate student interns who are tools of Obama’s 'radical policies'

Koch Industries' hometown congressman complains of wasting $30,000 on “tools” of White House agenda

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EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Evan Bush

Republicans in Congress have yet another EPA target in their sights — a new internship program for five graduate students.

Freshman Mike Pompeo, whose Kansas constituency includes Koch Industries, a top donor to his campaign, argues that the internship program favors students who share President Obama’s “radical” views on the environment.

The EPA hasn’t responded to multiple requests for a response to Pompeo’s assertions.

Several spokesmen for environmental organizations noted that Obama’s stance on issues they care about — such as imposing limits on ozone — hardly suggests that his views are radical, and they said they were unaware of a political bias in the internship program.

“To characterize the administration as extreme and radical is just not based on the reality of what the administration’s actually done,” said Al Huang, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The internship, known as the Environmental Justice Eco-Ambassadors program, is a pet project of EPA chief Lisa Jackson, who before joining the administration had a reputation as an advocate of stricter environmental regulations and environmental justice — ensuring that all people, including minority groups or the poor, have equal protection from the effects of pollution.

Jackson started the program one year ago to “expand the conversation on environmentalism and work for environmental justice,” according to the program’s website.

Interns have been chosen and are expected to start this week.

The target this time is relatively small potatoes. Other GOP targets at the EPA have included attempts by the agency to impose tighter regulations for ozonemercury and other air toxics, and on coal ash.

Pompeo’s legislation is another jab at Jackson, who some speculate may be on her way out after a failed attempt to impose stricter ozone standards. She has said in recent interviews that she intends to stay on the job.

Pompeo said his legislation, the EPA Student Non-discrimination Act, would save money, too.

“At a time when millions of Americans cannot find work and are saddled with record deficits and crippling environmental regulations, spending $6,000 of taxpayer money per student to act as tools of this Administration’s radical policies is clearly not acceptable — nor is it ever the role of the federal government to indoctrinate,” said Pompeo in a statement.

Other sponsors of the bill are Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Rep John Carter (R-Texas),  Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Rep. David McKinley (R-W Va.).

The bill would prohibit the agency from requiring applicants to its Environmental Justice Eco-Ambassadors program to “possess any experience that constitutes an endorsement of a particular position with regard to environmental protection.”

The eligibility requirements for applicants make no direct mention of such a requirement, however. They state only that “applicants must have previously been involved and/or have a strong interest in environmental justice, social justice issues and/or environmental health disparities in an academic, volunteer and/or employment setting.” The requirements also suggest, but do not mandate, that applicants be pursuing a degree in an environmental, health or public policy-related field.

The same prohibitions and funding restrictions would also apply to any programs related to the study of greenhouse gases, which are widely regarded as a key driver of climate change. The bill also requires the EPA to submit a report to Congress detailing its policies and procedures for recruiting and hiring applicants for all student programs over the past three years.

The Environmental Justice Eco-Ambassadors program interns work with local communities around the country to address environmental concerns. In addition to an opportunity to work with the EPA and local communities, the program promises its interns will receive a stipend of $6,000 for 10 weeks and professional development, including web-based training and networking opportunities.

The EPA Student Non-discrimination Act must clear the House Energy and Commerce Committee before going to the House floor for a vote. Calls to Rep. Pompeo’s office inquiring about the likelihood of the bill’s passage were not immediately returned.