Troubled by hostility, inexperience in Cabinet – Sunbury Daily Item

In the last two weeks we have witnessed the rise of incompetency; the president’s Cabinet picks reflect blatant inexperience and even unashamed hostility for the very agencies for which they’ve been appointed.

Federal agencies are charged with protecting our communities, advancing our schools, ensuring clean air and water and upholding the rules and laws that were enacted through our democratic system. Yet the Republican-controlled Congress is streamlining Cabinet approvals, reserving little, if any, time for serious debate, questioning and disclosure of conflicts of interest.

Two agency appointments in particular are worrisome: Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education and Scott Pruitt at the Department of Environmental Protection.

The Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. Yet Betsy DeVos, newly confirmed education secretary, has never taught or administered in a public school, let alone attended one. DeVos’ confirmation was so contentious it required the vice president, for the first time in history, to cast the tie-breaking vote for a Cabinet appointment.

DeVos has long supported drawing money out of the public education system to invest in private schools. In fact, she is not an educator, she’s a lobbyist. She has spent millions of her family’s vast wealth to influence Michigan’s education policy. Her efforts did little to improve the state’s education system. Instead, her policies resulted in windfalls for private companies that operate charter schools. The state has spent more than $1 billion on charter schools and has failed, thanks in part to DeVos’ lobbying, to hold them accountable. And, in most cases, the charter school classrooms did not out-perform their public counterparts, as was promised.

So what does DeVos bring to the Department of Education? Congressional confirmation hearings underscored her profound ignorance on federal policies and suggested how her conservative ideology may supersede the best interests of American students. Guns in schools? Public education dollars handed over to the private sector? Disregard for policies that ensure fair and inclusive education?

The Environmental Protection Agency’s basic mission is to protect human health and the environment — air, water and land. Scott Pruitt, confirmed Friday as EPA secretary, has sued the agency he now administers 14 times as Oklahoma attorney general, siding with energy corporations and special interests over the citizens of Oklahoma.

By statute, the attorney general represents the interests of consumers, the state’s natural resources and crime victims. Yet, Pruitt has a long record of choosing polluters over the health of his constituents and he is often rewarded with campaign contributions. He gutted environmental enforcements and went as far as to shut down his office’s Environmental Enforcement Unit and use its budget to sue the federal government over environmental protections.

Under the previous attorney general, a large chicken farm was charged with dumping excessive amounts of chicken manure into the Illinois River (resulting in toxic algae). Pruitt, upon taking office, promptly ended the investigation. He was rewarded with a $40,000 political contribution by the poultry industry.

Pruitt’s state has been plagued with manmade earthquakes as a result of natural gas extraction. Before “fracking” became prevalent in Oklahoma, the state experienced 1 to 2 earthquakes a year; now Oklahomans endure 1 to 2 earthquakes a day. When a small community filed a class action lawsuit against 27 oil companies over the damage caused by these quakes, Pruitt could have joined the case as an intervener. He didn’t. By not intervening, Pruitt sided with the fossil fuel industry, a major campaign contributor of his.

So how will Pruitt serve Americans as the head of the EPA? If his record in Oklahoma is any indication, he will back the highest bidder and implement policies that favor big energy with zero regard for the people and communities he is charged to protect.

DeVos and Pruitt are the worst possible picks to administer these agencies. They have consistently put their own self-interests and ideology above the best interests of our people.

Thank Sen. Casey for voting against these two appointments and, by doing so, standing with Pennsylvanians. Do not let Sen. Toomey off the hook.

By voting for DeVos and Pruitt, he has undermined our state’s public education system and efforts to ensure environmental protections.

Nicole Faraguna is a co-founder of Susquehanna Valley Progressives.



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