Judith Enck Talks Trump's Environmental Assault

By Jorja Rose '18

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A lecture given Friday night by Judith Enck, former EPA Region 2 Administrator, filled nearly every chair in the CAPA Symposium. The talk, titled “The Trump Assault on Environmental Protection and What You Can Do About It,” attracted not only students and faculty, but also many residents from Bennington and Hoosick Falls.

During her time at the EPA, which lasted the duration of Obama’s presidency, Enck headed up a staff of 800 and a budget of $700 million. EPA Region 2, of which she was in charge, includes New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight tribal nations.

Enck stepped down from her position shortly after Trump took office. Since then, she has been an open critic of Trump’s policies and appointees, and has continued to generate change as a fierce environmental advocate.

“If companies know there’s no environmental cop on the beat, they’re not going to work hard to comply with regulations,” Enck said, referring to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to dismantle the agency he runs. Emphasizing the importance of strong federal environmental policy, Enck added, “The implications are real. Air and water pollution don’t respect state boundaries.”

Enck’s actions as regional administrator took on local importance when, in 2015, she made the call for Hoosick Falls residents to stop drinking village water, which was contaminated with the industrial byproduct perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA in shorthand. Since breaking the issue, she’s gained respect as a local hero, which no doubt accounts for the turnout of townspeople on Friday night. She’s continued her work with Hoosick Falls beyond her time at the EPA, co-authoring a recent PFOA Health Questionnaire that went out to the community, on which Bennington students and faculty, namely Professor David Bond, have also lent a hand. During her talk, Enck thanked her collaborators from Hoosick Falls and Bennington College.

Another feature of Enck’s more recent activism has been her vibrant Twitter presence, which took off after she departed the EPA, where employees are advised not to be too active on social media. She now espouses social media as a powerful tool for environmental advocates. She urged everyone in the room to follow her, even giving the audience permission to take out their phones to do so.

But the message Enck really drove home was the immediacy of global warming, and the unmet need for students who will work diligently to make change. “We don’t have time to waste,” Enck said. “Unless more people get informed and get involved, environmental policies are just going to get worse.” She called out Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord as a defining moment of his presidency, one that will have repercussions for generations to come. She added, “The Trump policies will make the environment dirtier, and will compromise our health and our well-being.”

She also laid out a list of ten concrete steps students can take to begin tackling the issue of climate change. These include contacting members of Congress every single week, going to law school or getting an advanced degree in an environmental field, and talking to people who voted for Trump in order to better understand them. She called for students to devote their careers to environmental causes, and not just the scientists and activists: the movement needs writers, artists, and academics, too.

Enck’s portrayal of the issues behind climate change was unflinching, and she even stated at one point that the underlying problem is the lack of sustainability in Americans’ materialistic lifestyles. Still, she seemed confident that groups of citizens and students can make a difference and prompt real change. She pronounced at the end of the lecture, “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.”