Benton was sworn in as senior advisor Saturday, he said. The job is a temporary position, but could be extended. During the campaign, Benton served as Trump’s campaign chairman in Washington.
“I report directly to President Trump and my job as senior White House advisor is, as we are awaiting the confirmation of the administrator, to make sure that the president’s wishes and the president’s executive orders are being implemented,” Benton told OPB in an interview.
This week, the Trump administration announced it was temporarily suspending any grants and contracts. The federal environmental agency oversees $4 billion in grants to nonprofits and state governments every year, according to the EPA’s website.
“We had a meeting yesterday with all the senior staff,” Benton said Tuesday. “I assured them that our objective is to protect the health and safety and the environment of the American people, which is a core mission of the agency. And that’s what certainly Mr. Trump wants and that’s what we’re working towards.”
Benton is a former Republican state lawmaker who represented Vancouver, Washington. Last January, Benton announced he would not seek re-election. From 2013 to 2016, Benton also served as Clark County’s Environmental Services director, a controversial hiring that critics called political cronyism. He’s currently suing Clark County for $2 million, over what he describes as a hostile work environment.
On Tuesday, President Trump signed two executive orders to move forward with the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. One signed order directs the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Benton didn’t offer specifics, but said he was engaged in implementing those executive orders at the EPA.
“What we work on now are executive orders signed by the president,” Benton said. “The president signed an executive order today expediting the pipelines, Keystone and Dakota, and what that means for us is whatever involvement this agency has in that we will be implementing the president’s orders to expedite that.”
President Trump has spoken broadly about doing away with government regulations because he believes they kill jobs. Benton said the EPA, along with every other cabinet agency, would also be undergoing “regulatory reform,” but wouldn’t give specifics.
When asked about what how the EPA under Trump would respond to climate change, Benton said “that’s a question for the President of the United States and the White House Press Office, not for me.”
In terms of Benton’s own thoughts on climate change: “I don’t have any. I implement the thoughts of the President of the United States.”
Benton said Trump has done “more for the country in the last two days than the previous president has done in the last eight years. So, I think we’re in for exactly what he promised on the campaign and that is we’re going to make American great again in many, many ways.”
When asked how Trump has done more for the country in the last two days than Obama did in the last eight years, Benton cited the executive orders signed Tuesday breathing new life into the controversial pipelines.
“In terms of jobs, absolutely,” Benton said. “You think there’s not going to be hundreds of thousands of jobs created by the executive orders he’s signed today? Of course there will be.”