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Former senior EPA official speaks out; UK minister on the scramble to save the Iran deal. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired May 9, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, a former insider at the US Environmental Protection Agency, Betsy Southerland, joins me for an
exclusive interview as the growing ethics investigation threatens the head of the agency, Scott Pruitt.
Plus, make America safe again? How does Europe plan to salvage the Iran Nuclear Deal now that President Trump has exited and violated the
agreement? I ask Britain's top minister for Middle Eastern affairs, Alistair Burt.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
He is under 11 federal investigations and counting. Yet, the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is still on the job. Critics call it one more chink in
the pledge by President Trump to drain the Washington swamp.
And after all, isn't this the president who has seen record numbers of officials exit already? Perhaps Pruitt's survival is down to his record
where he's rolling back one regulation after another that were designed to protect America's air, water and land. And doing it all under a pro-
Now, Betsy Southerland wrote some of that regulation over more than three decades at the EPA. In her fiery resignation letter last year, she
condemned "the triumph of myth over truth," and she became one of hundreds of staffers to exit the EPA.
The agency has predictably hit back at her.
Betsy Southerland joins me now from Washington. Well, firstly, welcome to the program.
BETSY SOUTHERLAND, FORMER ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY OFFICIAL: Thank you so much for inviting me. I'm really looking forward to this
AMANPOUR: Well, it is. We like to call it an extensive. We know that you have written and you've done a few things in the interim since last year.
But why do you think, first and foremost, Scott Pruitt is still on the job given, as I said, these 11 different investigations. And I've got a stack
of paper that sort of lists how many there over everything from expenses, travel, security, condos, all sorts of things that are allegedly conflicts
SOUTHERLAND: It's absolutely unprecedented, I can tell you, in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency. Our administrators are usually
very serious, very scientific and lawyerly type people, who don't have any of these ethics problems ever. So, this is unprecedented.
I think he's going to stay. I would be very surprised if he's ever fired by President Trump. And the reason why is, unlike some of the other
cabinet secretaries that have been let go, he has apparently a very wide base of support with a number of heavy financial donors to the Republican
And they have all written in and spoken highly of him. And I would be surprised, at this point, if he's ever fired.
AMANPOUR: But it does sort of fly in the face, don't you think, the sort of tone, the visuals we've seen for the first year at least of this
administration when there have been a lot of firings and a lot of people being pushed out and a lot of resignations.
You say he won't be fired. Do you think he might resign? Might he have to?
SOUTHERLAND: It seems like he's really convinced that this is going to be his path to future political career. And again, he's used every minute
that he spent at EPA to really do everything in his power to respond to the request from Republican donors.
And he has given them everything they want. Rules that we have spent 8 to 10 years developing with years of scientific data collection and analysis,
in one meeting, he will meet with a donor and agree to repeal it. And he has done that. All of those are under repeal right now.
AMANPOUR: Give me one of the major ones, for instance, that concerns you the most.
SOUTHERLAND: So, one of the ones is the clean water rule, which is basically telling the country what waters in the United States will receive
any federal Clean Water Act protections. And we're waiting that this month.
We hope to see this month of May, according to Scott Pruitt, what his new proposal will be for what waters are going to be allowed to have federal
water quality protections.
And there's all indications that he is going to side with the farmers and with the land developers and make that rule a very, very restrictive one,
so that potentially only about 30 percent of the waters in the entire country and only about 10 percent of the wetlands would have any federal
water quality protection.
[14:05:08] AMANPOUR: Before I drill down into some of these issues one by one, I do want to play you what Administrator Pruitt told an ethics hearing
recently in defense of himself and his conduct.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT PRUITT, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: I have nothing to hide as it relates to how I've run the agency for the past 16
months. I'm not afraid to admit that there's been a learning process. And when Congress or independent bodies of oversight find fault in our
decision-making, I want to correct that and ensure that it does not happen again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Has there been any such correction?
SOUTHERLAND: Not that I've heard from the current staff at EPA. And I would say that we shouldn't have to wait for House or Senate Oversight
Committees to tell us what the basic requirements are for a federal employee.
There is plenty of civil service regulations out there. He had a wonderful staff advising him from the day he entered the EPA, who would have been
experts in that kind of ethics and conflict of interest regulations and would've advised him from day one on what was legal and what was not legal,
what was wasteful and what was really personal benefit only type actions by him.
AMANPOUR: Now, again, he does seem to be a larger-than-life character. I mean, his past is very colorful, in the way he's portrayed on television,
his previous offices, the way he conducts himself in office in all sorts of different areas.
But why did you resign? What was the thing that pushed you over the edge?
SOUTHERLAND: The real key issue was that he will not even allow the staff of EPA to advise him on the background of all these rules he's agreeing to
repeal. He wouldn't even let us in the room to give him a basic 101 on all the data collection, all the science and engineering that supported these
Instead, he met with a political donor. He agreed to do the repeal and then he directed us to do the repeal. So, it was the fruitlessness of
staying in the agency and having no potential way to influence his decision-making. If he will not listen to you, you have no possible
opportunity of changing his mind.
AMANPOUR: So, in your case - and you mentioned the health of water, America's waters. And in your case, you yourself were decorated for
discovering or identifying, I think, a certain bacteria that could improve water standards. Is that right?
SOUTHERLAND: Yes. We had done a lot of work on hazardous algal blooms and the real serious public health implications of those as well as different
kinds of bacteria that cause all kinds of illnesses in people.
And again, Scott Pruitt doesn't seem to want to hear from staff about the years of science and study behind these rules. He just simply repeals them
at the request of his political donors.
AMANPOUR: I mean, I ask you that because I'm just sort of establishing your scientific bona fides and your credentials because there is a
backlash, obviously, against you and certainly the EPA has questioned your stated reasons for resigning, saying actually she was coming up to her
retirement age and eyeing her pension and that was the reason then she's mischaracterizing everything else.
SOUTHERLAND: So, they do tend to attack everyone who criticizes them. They have - actually, our taxpayer-funded press office at EPA attacks
specific reporters that write critical articles. They attack retirees like myself who speak out.
It's amazing that, again, our taxes are being used to fund this kind of discrediting campaign for anyone who speaks out and wants to have an
alternative voice to Scott Pruitt's statement about what he's doing.
AMANPOUR: And again, just to go to the science of it, the Trump administration, the EPA under this administration, killed, as you said, the
regulation that you had written trying to keep toxic water from coal plants out of the water supply.
So, obviously, I mean, how does that feel as a scientist, as an environmentalist over the last 40 years to see that happen?
SOUTHERLAND: So, it's heartbreaking for every single person on the staff today as well as the 700 scientists and engineers who have left the agency
since Scott Pruitt arrived.
And that's because, again, in the case of most of these rules, 8 to 10 years went into their development where many, many data collection efforts
that were all reviewed by industry and by the public and then fully and completely analyzed by scientists and engineers and economists. So, all of
that was then reviewed by industry and the public.
[14:10:21] And at no time did anyone find a flaw in the science behind our rules or in the procedure, the legal procedures followed to make those
So, there's really no justification for the repeals other than the fact that his political donor asked him to do it.
AMANPOUR: And just to drill down a little bit more, the team at the EPA which disagrees with what you're saying and likes to have its own reasons
for why, as you've said, 700 people have left the agency, ascribe political motives to you, ascribe the motives of trying to sabotage the Trump
But you're saying that actually you haven't heard anybody who even wants to resign. You just want to put the facts in front of the administration and
hope they are enough to convince them.
SOUTHERLAND: Absolutely. All we want is an opportunity to speak to him and to show him all of the support for the rules that he's asking us to
And again, right now, in just the first year of Pruitt's administration of EPA. there are 66 public health and safety regulations that are in the
process of being repealed. Sixty six!
And not one of those rules has the staff that worked on them for years been able to speak to him for even five minutes to explain the backing behind
AMANPOUR: And I think in every one of those 66, it has a direct impact on the health and livelihood of individuals.
So, I would like to ask you to respond because you did write something pretty definitive with capital letters where they needed to be, in your
mind, in your resignation.
And you basically said that the EPA suffers from "the temporary triumph of myth over truth. The truth is there is no war on coal. There is no
economic crisis caused by environmental protection and climate change is caused by man's activities."
Because - I mean, you've said that. I want you to expand on it in light of the fact that they say or they are making certain changes based on a pro-
SOUTHERLAND: So, it's solely on a pro-business agenda and it's really without any context of science or engineering. So, let's just take the war
Right now, Scott Pruitt is repealing two rules, one of which I worked on in the water program, which for the first time was going to make coal-fired
power plants treat their toxic wastewater, instead of what they're doing today, which is pouring it untreated into these huge ponds.
And the second rule he is repealing is the one rule that we did last couple of years that asked people to actually inspect those giant holding ponds
with all that toxic wastewater. So, he's even trying to repeal that one.
What that means is that every community in the United States that's downstream of one of these coal-fired power plants can have one of these
terrible accidents that have been known to occur every few years. And which those ponds break and their communities are inundated with toxic
waste. Their drinking water supplies can no longer be used. They have to go on bottled water for weeks and months, while that clean up occurs.
We would have prevented all of that, if just those two rules had been allowed to stay in place. And he has repealed them because he says there's
a war on coal and we can't afford to treat that toxic waste.
AMANPOUR: And just finally, do you think it'll take an environmental disaster to change the agenda of the EPA?
SOUTHERLAND: Unfortunately, I feel that that is the only thing that could cause them to do a mid-course correction because, again, right now, they
are working solely with the business community with industry and agri business to the exclusion of any scientists, engineers or economists that
have the background knowledge behind these rules and they're agreeing to repeal everything that their political donors ask them.
AMANPOUR: Betsy Southerland, thank you so much. Thank you very much for joining us.
And now, we move from those domestic fears to foreign policy fears. Just one day after busting out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, the US president is
moving forward with plans to try to make a nuclear deal with North Korea.
After meeting with the leader, Kim Jong-un, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Pyongyang with three American detainees and, apparently, a time and a
place set for the summit.
But the big question looms. How can the American president pull off a bigger and better deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea after becoming the
only party to violate the Iran nuclear agreement?
The IAEA, again, reiterated today that Iran is fully complying, but Mr. Trump's action gave vent to hardliners in the Iranian parliament who burned
copies of the deal and the American flag.
With no plan B and a general consensus that the JCPOA, as it's called, does contain Iran's nuclear program, Europe, China and Russia are now front and
So, I asked Alistair Burt, the top UK minister at the foreign office for the Middle East, what happens next?
Minister Burt, welcome to the program.
ALISTAIR BURT, UK MINISTER OF STATE FOR THE MIDDLE EAST: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, I don't know whether you feel, but apparently the fate of the Iran Nuclear Deal is hinging on the Europeans, that the US is in
violation and if Iran is going to stay and you've got to pull some rabbit out of a hat. Do you see it that way?
BURT: I think we see it less as pulling a rabbit out of a hat as staying the course. We all feel very firmly that the box marked nuclear concern
was dealt with through JCPOA.
We know other things are out there. Everyone knows that. And the concerns expressed by Israel, by the United States are concerns we all share. But
we felt it could be dealt with by dealing with the JCPOA which, in our view and the view of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is being satisfied
and complied with.
So, as I say, it's more staying the course than pulling a rabbit out of the hat. The pulling the rabbit out of the hat was to say let's disregard it.
We think now we've got to move on. We've got a different situation.
AMANPOUR: How do you actually move on because already the secretary of the treasury has said that they are immediately going to enact and revoke
licenses for some of the biggest companies doing business with Iran - Boeing and Airbus - and that affects Britain as well and other countries?
How do you, A, you go on with tens of billions of dollars of business just wiped off the slate and to convince Iran that somehow you can, you
Europeans, mitigate this effect of sanctions on them?
BURT: Yes, it's a very serious question. In the House of Commons today, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was saying to the United States, don't,
whatever you do, make the conditions that you're going to operate under so onerous that the rest of us can't fulfill the obligations that we have
under the JCPOA.
It works two ways. It works in relation to containing the nuclear threat, but also the benefits of trade and relieving economic sanctions.
I think what we are pleading with the Americans is, look, you must handle it yourselves as you wish, but we want to continue to be able to be free to
Now, I suspect, in that space, there's quite a lot of discussion to be had because no one is naive enough to believe that if the American banks and
American financial systems do something, there isn't a knock-on effect elsewhere. But this is something, clearly, we've got to engage upon.
Bur as the foreign secretary was saying today, we want the United States to come forward and say what's its next steps in relation to how it deals with
the other issues surrounding Iran beyond just the re-imposition of sanctions.
But Iran will have to make some changes as well. There is no doubt about that.
AMANPOUR: Like what?
BURT: Well, they've got to address the issues that are fundamental. The future of the agreement, but we know that will come in time, but also
ballistic missile issues, Iranian activity in the region.
I mean, none of this is being ignored. Just because it's not negotiable and part of the JCPOA, it does not mean it's not discussable. And that's
clearly very upfront in the concerns of those in the region. And we take note of that.
AMANPOUR: Clearly, your prime minister, your foreign secretary, the president of France, the chancellor of Germany and practically everyone who
had a hand in negotiating the deal tried to prevail upon Donald Trump not to violate it and pull the United States out.
You were not listened to.
BURT: No, it's clear. As I was saying on the radio this morning, on this particular issue, because of the president's determination, which he set
out during his campaign and has repeated many times, he does not see this agreement as the pathway to resolving the issues in relation to Iran in the
We do. We have a difference of opinion. We want to continue to fulfill our obligations in relation to the deal.
AMANPOUR: There are many thoughtful American foreign policy experts who are trying to digest what just happened.
[14:20:00] And one leading person has just written that President Trump violates and withdraws US from the nuclear deal based on either ignorance
of the technical details of the deal or a willingness to basically bring down the Iranian regime or a willingness simply to expunge any record of
President Obama's foreign policy.
And I ask you because I want to know how an ally deals with an administration that is potentially making decisions like this even after
their own key officials, cabinet level officials, say the following. This is Mike Pompeo in his confirmation hearings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any evidence to dispute the IAEA assessment that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA?
MIKE POMPEO, THEN CIA DIRECTOR: Senator, with the information that I've been provided, I have no - I've seen no evidence that they are not in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Right. So, that's his view. It's Secretary Mattis' view. It's pretty much everyone's view that they are in compliance. How do you deal
with an administration, therefore, that is operating on a different reality level, maybe on a political level, an ideological level, but not on a
technical level in this regard?
BURT: Well, clearly, we would agree with the view expressed by Secretary of State Pompeo in that interview in the Senate. I mean, that's our view
I suppose the honest answer to your question is we are dealing with an administration led by an elected president of the United States. And in
the US system, the word of the president of the United States, the decision of the president of the United States is what becomes the policy of the
Now, a friend of an ally will do what it can to put information in front of the president, so that when he is making a decision, he has the information
available from his friends and allies, and he makes a decision based on that and whatever other things are part of his own political judgment. And
the rest of us then have to work with that. That is the system we have.
All we can do is, if we disagree, we say we disagree. If we're in agreement in which there are a number of different parties, we carry on
with that agreement because we think that's right. But there will be times when we agree with the president of the United States and his judgments and
times when we disagree.
But he's not our president. We are not working to his - others have to work with that and others in the US administration have to work with that.
We don't, but we have to work with the judgments and decisions that he makes.
AMANPOUR: So, I understand that. I mean, you somewhat make it sound like it's an academic exercise and it's up to the internal dynamics of the US
political system, but in this case it's a global potential threat and a global UN-enshrined deal that is being tossed in the air.
So, to that point, since you actually want to preserve it, I'd like to just raise with you the Iranians' concerns. As you know, the supreme leader
today was scathing about what happened and about your, the Europeans, ability to salvage this.
And this is what a leading analyst in Iran told me about Europe and the deal just last night. Just listen if you would.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMAD MARANDI, MEMBER OF IRANIAN DELEGATION DURING NUCLEAR TALKS: Not only did he humiliate Europe, but he presented them as ineffectual and of
So, the Europeans have a vested interest in showing that they do matter in international issues. If they rollover and abide by Trump's demands, then
I don't think in future any international body or any local player or regional player is going to take Europe seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: He's right, isn't he, Mr. Marandi?
BURT: Well, who is rolling over? I mean, until a few days ago, there were plenty of questions out there saying what will Europe do if the president
makes a decision that he has. And there were plenty of people saying, well, the Europeans can't possibly stick to JCPOA if the Americans make a
Well, we have and we're. No one's rolling over. And we have our own foreign policy. We have our own interest. We have our own analysis.
Yes, I was giving you an analysis a little while ago, but I don't, in any way, suggest or pretend that this is not something - I think you have to
analyze. I think if you don't analyze, you're not doing your job. But I'm well aware of the impact and the effect.
One of the arguments we would make most strongly is If you sign up to a deal, you sign up to a deal. If you walk away from that deal when nothing
has gone wrong with it, you raise all sorts of questions. That's why the United Kingdom has not done so.
So, there's no rolling over. There is no rolling over by the Europeans. United Kingdom's position is clear. We see the area as incredibly
dangerous at the moment. Very febrile. We don't want anything to make things worse and we're disappointed with this decision.
But we have to - we all have to work with this now, but we have to continue to work. What can we now to ease the tensions, to look at the things that
have caused the United States to do what it's done, how can everybody meet those challenges and how come we descale the tensions in the area because,
unless we do, then the region is heading for something even worse?
[14:25:04] And the United kingdom's voice will be clear and strong in trying to urge all parties to restrain, to look at the knock-on effects of
what they're doing, to consider what happens next, what's the next step, not take decisions solely in isolation, that this is part of a longer-term
We've seen one decision affecting it now, but there's much more to do. And it needs restraint and careful analysis as we move forward.
AMANPOUR: So, I guess, exactly on that point, my final question would be what will you and your other European counterparts tell Foreign Minister
Javad Zarif who negotiated this deal with you all and with Secretary Kerry when you all meet next week? What can you tell him, so that Iran continues
to stand by this deal with the faith - the good faith that it will still have the benefits to Iran and to the world that the deal envisioned?
BURT: Well, some of that will have to be worked out through next week and some of those conversations will take place. And we don't know what the
circumstances will be next week.
We can absolutely ensure in relation to good faith. We can talk about the importance of compliance right the way through with the deal. We can also
talk about the other issues that surround it, which are not part of the deal, but are obviously matters of concern in the region and say how
important they are.
But I think this would be part of a continuing conversation about how tensions and concerns can be descaled and how some of the activities of
Iran can be recognized as being harmful in the region and what can be done to ease those concerns for others.
But the good faith of the United Kingdom and other partners to the deal is very important in this process. And I think that will be made clear as
I think there's some way to go even before those conversations of next week.
AMANPOUR: Worrying days and weeks ahead. Minister Alistair Burt, thank you for joining the program.
BURT: Pleasure, thank you.
AMANPOUR: Difficult talks ahead too. That's it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching. You could always watch us online. Goodbye from