Throughout his campaign Donald Trump leaned heavily on the metaphor, “drain the swamp.” He never had to pause and explain or define what he meant. The three words resonated with his audiences while implicitly being understood. It became his mantra (along with “build the wall”), and, of course, the image was of a Washington filled with brackish water, filled with a turgid bureaucracy that was in desperate need of drainage. Ours had become, he insisted, a top-heavy government, no longer responsive to the needs of the people, overdue for a top-to-bottom scrub-down.
Trump’s promise was that he alone could fix it and if elected he would show up with a crew of drainage experts who would roll up their sleeves while outfitted in rough denim and hip waders and relentlessly get to work while adhering to the highest standards of ethical behavior. It was, after all, the taxpayers’ money. The promise was to slash federal spending and reduce the federal bureaucracy.
Hence some 63 million people believed that it was indeed time to drain the swamp and Trump was elected.
Once he took the oath of office and had insisted that his inauguration crowds were the biggest ever, he began nominating his swamp-draining cabinet.
Consider Scott Pruitt, now head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Prior to his confirmation, as attorney general of Oklahoma, he had sued the EPA more than a dozen times and had deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. He once sent a letter to the EPA on AG letterhead, written by Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas enterprises. He has also made it clear that he does not accept the scientific consensus that CO2 is a primary contributor to global warming.
His mission is to deregulate and dismantle the agency, proposing budget cuts of 31 percent and its workforce by 25 percent while eliminating some 56 programs, many of which were intended to protect public health and the environment.
Last March, Pruitt refused to ban a pesticide linked by agency scientists to brain damage. Coal’s effluvia are now no longer regulated and allowed to drain into creeks and rivers.
The administration has also directed the EPA to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, crafted under Obama. Its purpose was to save thousands of lives while reducing outputs of sulfur dioxide and other emissions from power plants. Trump has proposed subsidizing coal-fired power.
Regarding public health, the Trump budget has proposed eliminating grants made to states to prevent childhood exposure to lead as well as those funds slated to assist states in monitoring public water systems.
According to news reports, though the EPA’s budget has been truncated, Pruitt has requested an additional 10 people be added to his security detail, doubling its size. Their responsibility will be to guard Pruitt full-time.
As well, the EPA, over the summer, signed a contract for $24,570 to build a soundproof cubicle for Pruitt in his office, called a “privacy booth.” It’s a room that cannot be breached. However, the EPA already has a secure room where administrators can have classified communications.
While the cost of air travel for Trump cabinet appointees has been much in the news (Tom Price, ex-head of Health and Human Services, closed in on $1 million and change for private/military airfare), Pruitt, over the last nine months, has managed to accrue some $58,000 for charter flights while taking a pass on commercial. Last June he spent some $36,000 for private jet travel alone.
Flying the president and the first family is staggering. It costs $200,000 per hour to keep Air Force One aloft, and that’s not including tangential costs for limousine transport and his security detail.
When Mike Pence flew to Indianapolis from Las Vegas to watch a Colts/49ers game — that would be the one he walked out of during the national anthem because some players took a knee — the cost to taxpayers to fly the VP and aides on Air Force Two (plus hotel accommodations and security) was $200,000. He later flew on to L.A. for a fundraiser at a reported cost of $142,500.
And so the drainage project continues.
— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.