WASHINGTON — With oil ally Scott Pruitt now at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency and a White House looking to axe one-quarter of the agency’s funding, two former EPA administrators felt no need to equivocate.

“This is actually going to be devastating for the agency’s ability to protect public health,” Gina McCarthy, who served as EPA chief under former President Barack Obama, told MSNBC.

In a joint interview Wednesday with MSNBC’s Greta van Susteren, McCarthy and Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor who later served as EPA chief under President George W. Bush, warned that the proposed EPA cuts go far deeper than reeling in burdensome regulations. 

McCarthy called the Trump administration’s budget proposal “an attack on the agency” that would reduce staffing levels to where they were 40 years ago.

“I understood that this administration was likely not supportive of climate initiatives, but this is going to the heart of our air and water protections. This is going to the heart of how EPA protects the public health of American families,” she said.

As The Huffington Post previously reported, the White House is looking to cut the EPA’s budget by 25 percent, as well as eliminate 1 in 5 agency employees. And The Washington Post reports that the EPA’s scientific research arm, the Office of Research and Development, could see up to a 42 percent cut. Last year, the agency’s budget totaled nearly $8.2 billion.

“We’re talking about 42 percent of our scientists potentially losing their jobs this year,” McCarthy added. “I mean, this is not just disagreeing with the science and wanting to deny it. This is telling half of the scientists that they’re no longer welcome in the premiere environmental science agency in the world, the Environmental Protection Agency.” 

Asked if she thought Pruitt would do the right thing for EPA, Whitman said she was “skeptical.”

“I hope fervently that the kind of message that the administrator gave the other day to the people who work at the agency, the career staff, where it was a pretty balanced approach, that’s going to be more the tone we’re going to see — more respect for the agency and its mission, what it does,” she said. “The agency is about protecting human health and the environment. And we don’t want to lose that in an effort to ensure that the regulations in place are the ones the administration wants.”

What Whitman and McCarthy had to say Wednesday came as little surprise. Both have previously spoken out against what is unfolding at EPA. 

“[Pruitt] obviously doesn’t care much for the agency or any of the regulations it has promulgated,” Whitman said of the former Oklahoma attorney general in December. “He doesn’t believe in climate change; he wants to roll back the Clean Power Plan.”

In a statement earlier Wednesday to The Washington Post, McCarthy blasted the White House’s budget proposal, saying it “ignores” not only “the need to invest in science and to implement the law,” but also “the lessons of history that led to EPA’s creation 46 years ago.”

A gutting of the EPA will almost certainly get the endorsement of the agency’s top boss; Pruitt sued the EPA 13 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

Over the weekend, Pruitt said those calling for the abolishment of the EPA were “justified” in their beliefs. He credited the agency’s actions under the Obama administration for such outrage.

“I think people across this country look at the EPA much as they look at the IRS,” Pruitt said during his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. “There are going to be some big steps taken to address some of those regulations.”

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