Fighting fire with fire

SMU-in-Taos at Ft. Burgwin hosts lecture by former EPA administrator


Americans used to be reasonably sure the Environmental Protection Agency was in the business of protecting the American people.

Now, the EPA’s budget has been slashed by 31 percent, and funding for key climate change programs has been trashed. President Donald Trump’s first budget blueprint hit the EPA and other federal climate change programs and initiatives the hardest and rewarded extractive industries and alleged polluters.

Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s administrator under the Trump administration, has moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules. Per experts in environmental law, that is a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history, according to reports.

Dr. Karl Brooks will be speaking in Taos as part of the Southern Methodist University-in-Taos Summer Colloquium Series. His talk, “Burning Down the House: EPA Up in Flames,” is planned for Tuesday (Aug. 8), 7-9 p.m. at SMU-in-Taos, Fort Burgwin, 6580 State Road 518, south of Talpa. It is a free event.

Brooks was a high-ranking administrator in the EPA, and he is here to discuss what the current mood may be for those who work in the agency. Brooks has also blogged for the EPA. In his most recent blog entry, he wrote about his concerns for those Americans who suffer from asthma. “Asthma and its triggers constitute a real public health threat. The almost 25 million Americans who suffer from this serious, sometimes life-threatening disease already know what triggers their disease and have a plan of action. At EPA, controlling these triggers is part of our mission to protect human health and the environment,” he wrote.

“Protecting health is one of our primary goals, so the EPA must create real solutions for these very real problems. Just one wheezing, coughing, struggling-to-breathe child in the Heartland epitomizes the millions who suffer from asthma. Helping them breathe more freely is cause enough. EPA remains diligent in our efforts to educate and resolute in our actions to clean the air we breathe,” he continued.

Imagine, then, what it must be like for a civil servant to have been charged with this mission. What is it like, now that the future must be reassessed under the new political climate – let alone concerns about actual global climate change and its impacts?

The “National Climate Assessment Report” summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States. The report was created by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee. It was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their conclusion: “Evidence for changes in Earth’s climate can be found from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Researchers from around the world have compiled this evidence using satellites, weather balloons, thermometers at surface stations, and many other types of observing systems that monitor the Earth’s weather and climate. The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.”

Before joining the EPA’s senior staff in its headquarters, Brooks was administrator of EPA Region 7, where he supervised agency operations in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine tribal nations from 2010 through 2015.

Brooks joined the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs as director of the Executive Master in Public Leadership Program in March 2016, becoming a clinical professor in February 2017.

Brooks had been the presidentially nominated assistant administrator for administration and resources management with the EPA. He served as deputy assistant administrator in 2015 and 2016.

He practiced trial and appellate law in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, for a decade, representing individual, small-business and corporate clients in various American courts and agencies. He has been a member of the Idaho State Bar since 1983 and is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court and several federal appellate courts. During 2001 and 2002, as a Supreme Court fellow in Washington, D.C., Brooks drafted the first history of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Brooks was elected in 1986 to the first of three terms in the Idaho Senate, becoming co-chair of the Judiciary and Rules Committee and ranking Democrat on the Local Government and Taxation Committee. From 1993 to 1996, he served as executive director and legislative liaison for the Idaho Conservation League, his home state’s largest citizens’ environmental organization.

For more information, call (575) 758-8322 or visit smu.edu/taos.