Ohio State’s recent hire of a former Trump administration official has sparked a backlash among student environmental groups on campus.
The Ohio State Sierra Club Student Coalition, a student environmental advocacy group, raised concerns about Ohio State’s recent hiring of Clint Woods, former deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences hired Woods as the director of strategic partnerships effective Oct. 14, according to CFAES’ website.
In response, the Sierra Club wrote a letter to Cathann Kress, dean of CFAES, in mid-October, asking for more information about the hiring process, as well as the role Woods will play at the school.
The letter said that Woods’ track record on the environment, including air pollution, toxic chemicals and lobbying efforts, is not in line with the college’s mission.
“It’s like, how can you hire this guy who has a past so clearly anti-science and against what we strive for in [the School of Environment and Natural Resources]?” Brian Bush, a third-year in environmental science and the vice president of the Sierra Club coalition, said.
Woods said he is committed to CFAES’ mission and looks forward to meeting with the Sierra Club. He also said the mission will be central to his new role.
“The Strategic Partnerships unit will help to connect CFAES’ work, including world-class teaching, research and outreach across food, agricultural and environmental sciences, with a diverse group of partners in order to tackle the grand challenges of sustainability,” he said in an email.
The School of Environment and Natural Resources is a department within CFAES, and according to the school’s website, it “creates science-based knowledge and fosters environmental sustainability through teaching, research and outreach.”
The letter included several reasons why the Sierra Club is concerned about Woods, citing published news reports, including Woods’ past position at the American Legislative Exchange Commission, a large lobbying group that opposes many EPA regulations and called his position “integral in the Trump administration’s environmental regulation rollbacks.”
According to the letter, Woods has also been sued by environmental organizations following the Illinois’ EPA stance reversal on smog with “no air-quality justification for the change.” The letter also stated that in his position with the EPA, Woods “delayed release of a study detailing cancer risks from formaldehyde by refusing to give his permission to initiate the agency review process for the assessment and refusing offers from EPA scientists to brief him on it.”
“Clint Woods does not personify the CFAES mission to transform CFAES into a college that values ‘Sustainability, One Health, Rural-Urban Interface, and Leadership,’” the Sierra Club said in its letter.
Despite these concerns, Bush said he believes Woods can be effective in his role at Ohio State.
“He seems like he is a nice guy. He seems like he has connections. I’m sure he can do good things, but we need to be assured that nothing anti-science, anti-environmental regulation is going to be brought into the partnerships that he’s building,” Bush said. “We want transparency with what he’s doing moving forward and send the message that this is unacceptable to be so insensitive to our values in these kind of hires.”
Woods and Kress both pointed out that his position is not a policy-setting position for the school. Woods will not have authority over “scholarship direction.”
Kress said in an email that she will meet with the Sierra Club and encouraged them to reach out to Woods directly. She also pointed out that the school received positive feedback about Woods from all groups involved in the interview process.
A Change.org petition, posted on behalf of the graduate student body of Environment and Natural Resources by Victoria Abou-Ghalioum, a graduate student in environment and natural resources, expresses concerns similar to those of the Sierra Club. At the time of publication, it had 170 signatures with a goal of 200.
The petition lists requests for transparency and states, “As future environmental professionals, we feel that this hiring undermines the work of our school and environmental scientists across the College.”