Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official Elizabeth Southerland gained media attention Tuesday when she announced she was leaving the agency after 30 years in protest to the Trump administration’s agenda.
“I felt it was my civic duty to explain the impact of this administration’s policies on public health and safety,” Southerland told The Washington Post in a Tuesday interview on why she resigned.
Southerland is at least the third high-profile EPA employee to up and leave the agency this year in protest to President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts and cutting of regulations. She will volunteer for the Environmental Protection Network, a group of former EPA staffers “resisting” Trumps’ agenda.
“It may take a few years and even an environmental disaster, but I am confident that Congress and the courts will eventually restore all the environmental protections repealed by this administration because the majority of the American people recognize that this protection of public health and safety is right and it is just,” Southerland wrote in her statement, which was distributed Tuesday by the left-leaning Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The EPA framed Southerland’s departure differently. An agency spokesman said Southerland’s resignation looks more like retirement since she’s eligible for a government pension.
“It’s hard to believe that Elizabeth Southerland is retiring because of a budget proposal and not because she’s eligible for her government pension,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in an emailed statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“We wish Elizabeth Southerland the best in her retirement and the EPA will continue to re-focus on our core mission of protecting our air, land and water,” Wilcox said.
PEER did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment on whether or not Southerland would take her EPA pension.
Southerland, 68, worked at EPA for the last three decades. The Office of Personnel Management says retirement benefits are based on an employee’s highest base salary in a three-year period.
The former EPA official made $249,000 in her last year of employment, according to the website FederalPay.org, which compiles federal salary data.
For comparison, the average American’s salary is $44,000, according to the Census Bureau, and a senator or congressman makes $174,000 a year.
Southerland’s base salary was $185,100 in 2016. She got a $64,155 bonus that year, and, according to FederalPay.org, she was in “highest-paid ten percent of employees” at EPA.
Southerland made more than $2.3 million in salary and bonuses since 2004, the farthest back FederalPay.org goes. This figure does not include benefits, like health care.
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