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caption: Richmond Beach and the Olympic Mountains on Puget Sound, which could see fewer water-quality and shoreline regulations
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Richmond Beach and the Olympic Mountains on Puget Sound, which could see fewer water-quality and shoreline regulations
Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Washington state Republicans get two EPA 'beachhead' posts

Two Washington state Republicans have been chosen by President Donald Trump to help overhaul, if not gut, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Former state Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver and state Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale have joined the EPA as part of a 10-person "beachhead" transition team.

Both men have been critics of environmental regulations in Olympia.

Benton and Ericksen led Trump's 2016 campaign in Washington state. They could not be reached for comment Monday night.

Benton's job is to supervise the EPA transition for the next few months; Ericksen will be the transition spokesperson. While the positions are temporary, they might lead to regular positions such as heading up EPA regional headquarters. EPA's Seattle office is responsible for protecting the environment in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Chris Wilke with the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance said the pair working at the EPA would be "a disaster" for Puget Sound.

"That’s really alarming to use a war metaphor for attacking our environment," Wilke said. "They should be protecting beaches instead of establishing beachheads."

On Monday, President Trump told a group of business leaders he could slash regulations without endangering the environment or workplace safety.

"We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent, maybe more," Trump said.

ProPublica reported Monday night that the Trump administration quietly imposed a freeze on grants and contracts by the EPA.

Much of the ongoing push to clean and restore Puget Sound by the year 2020 has been paid for by grants from the EPA.

Ericksen told the Seattle Times he does not plan to give up his seat in the state Senate during this temporary gig. Instead, he'd fly back and forth to do both jobs. If he does quit, it would leave the state Senate in a 24-to-24 tie until he is replaced.

'Carbon's a natural thing'

Despite science concluding that climate change is a serious and imminent threat, Benton and Ericksen have both downplayed its seriousness. They have both opposed Gov. Jay Inslee's proposals to reduce the carbon emissions that are driving climate change.

“I think there are greater, more pressing priorities at the moment,” Benton told the Seattle Times in 2013.

"Carbon's a natural thing out there. I mean, I need carbon to grow my crops and for trees to live," Ericksen told KUOW's Ashley Ahearn in 2015. "I don't want to sacrifice good-paying jobs in Washington state to send a message to China."

Ericksen's district includes two major oil refineries and the site of a proposed coal-export terminal.

The EPA determined in 2009 that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are in fact pollutants that endanger human welfare, based on reams of peer-reviewed research by the National Research Council and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and that the EPA was obligated to regulate the gases.

Trump has promised to undo action on greenhouse gases, including the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and U.S. participation in a global climate treaty.

In his confirmation hearings last week, EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma questioned the scientific consensus that human activity is the main driver of our changing climate, but he said the agency had a legal obligation to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

Last year was the hottest year on record, the earth's third year in a row of record-breaking heat.

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