WASHINGTON -- A senior EPA policy adviser who has worked on the proposal to scale back tailpipe emissions standards has left the agency to form a nonprofit advocacy group focused on defending President Donald Trump's record on energy, the environment and the economy.
"Historic resistance from Democrats, the media and even some Republicans has made your accomplishments even more monumental," Mandy Gunasekara, the principal deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation, wrote in a Feb. 7 resignation letter to Trump, a copy of which was obtained by Automotive News. "We have the cleanest air on record, we lead the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our energy industry -- the lifeblood of the thriving Trump economy -- is the envy of the world. Every American should not only know this, but celebrate it."
Gunasekara has been with the EPA's air office since November 2017, having joined the agency as a senior policy adviser seven months earlier. Before that she was majority counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, under Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a vocal skeptic of climate change, and then Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. Previously she held staff positions in the House and Senate, as well as with the National Association of Chemical Distributors and Lululemon Athletica, often switching jobs after a year or less.
Gunasekara worked closely on legal, political and policy issues with Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and William Wehrum, who heads the air office.
The EPA and NHTSA are working on a controversial rule that would freeze light-vehicle fuel economy standards at the 2020 model year level rather than requiring 5 percent annual fleet improvements through the 2025 model year, as established by the Obama administration in cooperation with California and the auto industry. Industry and congressional sources say it's possible the agencies could opt for minor efficiency gains far below the existing standards.
At least 18 states, including California, have threatened to sue the administration if it moves ahead with lowering the fuel economy targets.
In her resignation letter, Gunasekara took pride in helping change the rule, which the Trump administration says will make cars and light trucks too expensive and discourage people from replacing older vehicles with fewer safety features.
"I also worked hard to ensure Americans can drive safe and efficient vehicles they both want and can afford," she wrote.
Gunasekara has formed a nonprofit organization called Energy 45 Fund dedicated to informing the public about what she characterizes as Trump's environmental achievements, according to her LinkedIn page.
On the organization's website she describes herself as the "chief architect" of the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and takes credit for orchestrating the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that covered utilities.
"I came to Washington eight years ago to fight back against the last administration's oppressive regulatory policies, unprecedented overreach and a mentality where apologizing for our nation's longstanding success was a common theme. ... Your Rose Garden announcement to formally withdraw provided personal validation, but more importantly, made clear to the world that the American worker truly has priority over self-interested delusional bureaucracies," she wrote in the resignation letter.
On Thursday, Congressional Democrats introduced a Green Deal, a policy framework for addressing climate change and economic inequality that includes pushing for a carbon-free economy. On her website, Gunasekara says she'll work to expose "liberal energy fantasies."