New York Times reporter Eric Lipton’s smear piece on Trump EPA appointee Dr. Nancy Beck reeks of the sort of anti-Trump, anti-business hysteria that’s now commonplace in the media.
President Trump appointed Dr. Beck to head the EPA’s office of Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention in July. Yet, because Dr. Beck previously worked for the American Chemistry Council (ACC)—a trade association that represents the chemical industry—Lipton thinks she’s a danger to the environment and human health.
It makes sense that Lipton limits his attack to her tenure at the ACC. He doesn’t attack Beck’s credentials (Dr. Beck has a Ph.D. in environmental health as well as a Masters in environmental health and toxicology) nor does he attack her reputation as a scientist (she’s wildly respected by colleagues and Lipton even includes compliments from colleagues). Instead, Lipton suggests repeatedly in the piece that Dr. Beck is using her position to help the chemical industry.
Much of Lipton's concerns focus on what he calls the EPA's "abrupt new direction" on regulating chemicals that would "change the way the federal government evaluates health and environmental risks," which he says would make it it more aligned with the industry’s wishes.
Yet, for those who have watched the EPA embrace the precautionary principle during Obama’s presidency, this “abrupt new direction” is a welcome change. During the Obama administration, the EPA’s aggressive, hazard-based approach to regulations hurt businesses and property owners. Many see this shift not as pro-business, but as pro-science, in that the EPA is moving to a risk-based regulatory model that relies only on legitimate and well-designed studies, instead of studies produced by environmental activist organizations, while also requiring agencies do a cost-benefit analysis of the regulations its proposing.
This obviously rattles Lipton and his friends in the environmental movement who want scientists to stay in their place—that is, in academia, or working as government scientists who dutifully push for the regulations the evironmental movement demands. According to Lipton, any scientist who ventures off this path—like Nancy Beck has done—to work within and advise industry on better safety standards or improved safety practices is a sellout who cares nothing for human health and safety.
Just consider how he compares Dr. Beck to Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, another woman who worked at the EPA and who held Beck’s position during the Obama Administration. Accompanying a flattering picture of Hamnett looking off into the distance winsomely, Lipton writes that she “spent her entire 38-year career at the E.P.A., joining the agency directly from law school as a believer in consumer and environmental protections.” A believer, folks. She’s a believer. And, she was at the agency for nearly 40 years. You can almost imagine Lipton swoon as he wrote that.
Writing about Dr. Beck, Lipton simply ticks off her resume, writing she “…did a fellowship at the E.P.A., but has spent most of her 29-year career elsewhere: in a testing lab at Estée Lauder, as a toxicologist in the Washington State Health Department, as a regulatory analyst in the White House and most recently with the chemical industry’s trade group.”
You see? Beck’s not a believer. Beck went astray—back and forth from the more virtuous work as a government employee to the selfish side trips into industry—and worse, the makeup industry—a tool of the patriarchy!
Then, Lipton weirdly suggests Dr. Beck and Ms. Hamnett had some sort of catfight going on while they were both serving at the EPA (because of course women always act that way at work), writing:
Before Mr. Trump’s election, Ms. Hamnett would have been regarded as the hands-down victor in their professional tug of war. Her decision to retire in September amounted to a surrender of sorts, a powerful acknowledgment of the two women’s reversed fortunes under the Trump administration.
Hands down victor? Why then did several paragraphs later, Lipton quote Hamnett complimenting Dr. Beck for her work ethic, grasp of both the scientific and regulatory process, and clear competency to lead that regulatory office. In fact, Hamnett admits, Beck was downright intimidating.
She described Dr. Beck as a voracious reader of scientific studies and agency reports, diving deep into footnotes and scientific data with a rigor matched by few colleagues. She combed through thousands of comments submitted on proposed rules. And she had a habit of reading the Federal Register, the daily diary of new federal rules.
All of it made Dr. Beck an intimidating and confident adversary, Ms. Hamnett recalled. “She’s very smart and very well informed,” she said.
Yet, instead of celebrating the appointment of this smart, well-informed woman to head one of the EPA’s most important regulatory offices, Lipton says Beck’s confidence had a “destructive side” because, he writes, she had the gall to challenge EPA scientists and risk assessors and questioned the validity of their studies. She also had the nerve to impose her own judgment.
I mean, can you imagine? A strong, brilliant, self-assured women who had the confidence to impose her own opinions and demand answers to challenging questions? Someone better cancel some of those STEM Programs for girls (you know, the ones that Lipton and so many other science reporters love to prattle on about) or we run the risk of getting thousands more of these Beck monsters!
Maybe for his next story, Lipton can examine Hilary Clinton’s destructive confidence or write about Nancy Pelosi’s annoying habit of challenging Republicans. Maybe Lipton can do a series on how Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd have had a really destructive influence on Hollywood’s sexual assault machine. Maybe he can do a feel good piece on Saudi Arabia and how nice it is that women there are discouraged from speaking up or ya know, leaving the house without a male attendee.
But characterizing Dr. Beck as a pushy, bossy, loudmouthed woman wasn’t enough. Next, Lipton questioned her ethics by suggesting that the changes made during the EPA’s rulemaking process to a recently passed chemical reform bill was due to Dr. Beck looking out for her buddies in the chemical industry.
Yet, if Lipton really understood the rulemaking process, he would know that changes are often made to laws during the rulemaking process, either to correct errors or to account for things not considered or not known during the legislative process. In fact, under Obama, agency bureaucrats were infamous for flagrantly and entirely ignoring Congressional intent and crafting rules that fully altered laws to better suit their pro-environmental agenda. Naturally, Lipton was silent about those rulemaking shenanigans.
Conservatives have long steeled themselves to the dismal way they’re treated by the mainstream press. Yet the naked and aggressive sexism, cruel derision and shocking distortions female conservatives endure—particularly those who have chosen to serve President Trump–is a new, and somewhat scary frontier that has the potential to drive women away from federal service.
Maybe that’s the point.