It wasn’t enough for Scott Pruitt, the Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, to waste tax payer dollars on first class travel, overly large and paranoiac security details, expensive vacations, “tactical pants”, and sound-proof phone booths, all while taking a below-market value home rental from energy industry lobbyists and hiding his email correspondence.
No, he had to also make sure that the EPA wasted thousands of dollars on commemorative coins celebrating the agency’s response to the myriad of natural disasters in 2017 including California wildfires and the hurricanes that devastated the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida and decimated the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
According to CNN, the EPA contracted The Lapel Pins Plus Network to design and manufacture nearly two thousand “challenge coins” featuring the EPA’s logo and slogans praising the agency’s role in assisting the response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the California wildfires. The cost? Over $8,500.
The contract, obtained through public records, mandates the inclusion of the phrase “response excellence” on the coin, and says that the coin should “convey the sentiment that EPA staff from all across the country worked together to respond to the incidents from Puerto Rico to California (and regions in between).”
The tradition of challenge coins originated in the military and are often created to commemorate historic events or represent federal agencies.
Generally, however, these challenge coins are created when the operations they celebrate are actually successful.
Given that so much of Puerto Rico is still without power due to the government’s inadequate response, and that the EPA prematurely cleared still-contaminated toxic waste sites in the Houston area as safe before it was revealed that they were actually still quite dangerous, the EPA and its staff hardly deserve a token of special recognition for their criminal mishandling a disaster that led to the deaths of 4,600 people.
Environmental groups were horrified by the contract for the coins, telling CNN that the EPA’s response to the disasters was “lacking,” particularly in its addressing issues of contaminated drinking water and toxic flooding.
“They didn’t want to make public how bad the situation was. It’s a complicated situation but I can’t believe that they are giving awards to people for this,” Neil Carman, a former Texas environmental official now with the Sierra Club, told CNN. “It’s kind of disgusting to me, because the huge concern is that a lot of material escaped and the flooding carried the dioxin to people’s yards.”
Speaking of the EPA’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Eric Olson, a senior director at the Natural Resources Defense Council said;
“From a public health standpoint, what’s really concerning is that they did not address the drinking water quality” in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, he said, citing reports of waterborne illnesses and widespread bacterial contamination, boil water advisories for a majority of the island and reports that people were getting their drinking water from Superfund sites had not been properly locked down by the EPA.
“Every state and territory is required to have an emergency drinking water plan in place for natural disasters and obviously when EPA approves that plan, they are supposed to affirm that there is an adequate plan for response, and EPA did approve the plan, but clearly they didn’t have an adequate plan for drinking water,” Olson said.
If this is the kind of response that the EPA gives commemorative coins for, then perhaps they should be minting a special coin for their administrator Scott Pruitt to extoll his budget management skills and selfless sacrifices in braving the seats in coach since his first-class flight privileges have been stripped after his multiple abuses of power.
Can we specify in the contract that the coin features the image of a vast and putrid swamp?
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