Former Sen. Don Benton Leads Trump EPA Transition


Former Washington state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, will be serving a permanent role in the Trump Administration, the retired politician said Friday.

In a phone conversation with The Reflector, Benton, who is currently in Washington, D.C., said his role will be the Senior White House Advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency. He explained that his chief duty would be conveying President Donald Trump’s agenda to the EPA’s administrator.

The position is not a Trump Cabinet position, though precedent has it at Cabinet-rank. Benton said the discrepancy was due to how the agency came about, from an executive order by President Richard Nixon and not an act of Congress.

Along with conveying Trump’s wishes to the administrator, Benton said the job would have him also conveying the administrator’s recommendations to the White House. Benton described his position as the “conduit” between the White House and the EPA.

As of press time, the current nominee for the EPA administrative role, Scott Pruitt, was pending confirmation from the Senate.

The position differs from his former role in Clark County’s now-defunct Department of Environmental Services as director. He is not the executive of the EPA as he was the executive in the DES, Benton said. 

“Make no mistake about it, I do not run things here,” Benton said. “I am not responsible for the success or the failure of this agency. It’s a completely different role.”

He cited his work with the DES where he said he was able to cut the department’s budget by 25 percent while winning more awards than the department had in the past as being proof of him being an asset to the administration.

“I know how to reduce costs and increase success,” Benton said, “which I’m sure is part of the reason Trump asked me to do this.”

Contrary to reports that his position would be temporary, Benton said his position would be a permanent post in the administration, not simply for the transition. 

During that transition, however, the role takes on a slightly different aspect, he said. In that time his job is to see Trump’s executive orders implemented by the acting EPA Administrator Catherine McCabe, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to that post in the interim.

Benton spoke positively about his relationship with McCabe, saying that they were “getting along fantastically” during the transition.

To give an example of his current role, Benton said that when Trump signed the order freezing federal hiring, it was his job to advise McCabe on the order and ask that she would sign a similar order for her agency.

Benton is not the only Washington state politician helping with the transition, as both state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, and former state Sen. Bryan Dansel, R-Republic, have also taken up roles on the Trump team. Whereas Ericksen maintains his seat in the 42nd District, Dansel resigned from his 7th District post effective Jan. 25, Benton said, explaining that Dansel’s role as Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture would be a permanent post. 

Ericksen’s role as head of EPA communications for the transition was temporary for up to 120 days, Benton said, and Ericksen will be retaining his position in the Washington Senate. In that capacity, Ericksen is under the direction of Benton who is the leader of that department’s transition.

Benton stressed that the focus of the EPA under Trump would continue with the motto “to protect the health and safety of the American citizens.”

“The mission of this agency has not changed and will not change,” Benton said, explaining that the administration’s mission was to implement that mandate more efficiently and effectively in tune to Trump’s campaign promises and vision.

Benton said he was “deeply honored,” adding that he felt the role was a “huge responsibility.”

“It’s not every day a country boy from Clark County gets appointed senior advisor to the President of the United States,” Benton said.