Concerns Raised as Trump Political Appointee Set To Deliver Opening Keynote at GSA, Cardinals Sustainability Conference Today


James Gulliford, a political appointee selected by President Trump and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to serve as Administrator of EPA Region 7, will deliver the Opening Keynote address at Wednesday’s St. Louis Sports and Sustainability Symposium. The event is co-sponsored by the Green Sports Alliance and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Those involved in the decision to invite Mr. Gulliford say his talk will focus on the successful, laudable and important long-term partnership between the Cardinals and EPA Region 7 on food recovery and donation, recycling and composting. 

However, in response to questions posed by GSB, some members of the Alliance’s Board, leaders of the Green-Sports movement, and high-ranking executives at a major environmental non-profit believe that inviting a high ranking representative of the Trump administration’s EPA as the Opening Keynote was ill-conceived.

Several urged Alliance leadership and the Cardinals to revoke the invitation or, at the very least, have a Q&A session after the Administrator’s talk.

As of this writing, Mr. Gulliford is not expected to take questions.


The St. Louis Sports and Sustainability Symposium, one of a handful of regional gatherings put on each year by the Green Sports Alliance, takes place later this morning. The St. Louis Cardinals, one of the Green-Sports movement’s early adopters, will host the one-day event at Busch Stadium.

At first glance, the agenda looked interesting if unremarkable. There will be welcoming remarks from the Mayor of St. Louis, the Cardinals and the Alliance. Panels on waste, LED lighting and food and beverage fill out a very busy schedule.

Then I noticed that the Opening Keynote speech would be delivered by James Gulliford, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine Tribal Nations). He is a political appointee of President Trump and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.


James Gulliford, Administrator of EPA Region 7 (Photo credit: EPA)



Upon learning of the invitation to Mr. Gulliford, John Walke, a former EPA official and Director of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who has practiced environmental law for three decades, said:

“The Cardinals are a world class team with a true commitment to environmental sustainability, so it’s disconcerting to see them and the Green Sports Alliance extend the honor of a keynote speaking role to a political representative of the worst administration ever to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This EPA’s record is one of relentless environmental rollbacks, serial law breaking, attacks on science, refusals to protect and reckless retreats from addressing dangerous climate change.  That’s a lousy record, not one deserving of elevation at any sustainability conference.”


John Walke, NRDC (Photo credit: NRDC)


Indeed, a short list of the dozens of harmful environmental initiatives and policies authored by this Administration includes:

President Trump and his EPA appointees also routinely deny or minimize the existential threat climate change poses to humanity and all other life forms.



Why would the Green Sports Alliance and the Cardinals offer an unfiltered, no questions asked, Opening Keynote Speech as a platform to a political appointee at the most vilified, and legally challenged, EPA in US history?

The invitation seems at odds with the Alliance’s support for the UN’s Sports For Climate Action Framework that specifically endorses the Paris Agreement.

Joe Abernathy, the Cardinal’s VP for Facilities Planning, doesn’t see a problem with the decision to give Administrator Gulliford the Opening Keynote.

“EPA Region 7 has been a great partner to the Cardinals for the last decade, through Administrations of both parties,” Abernathy said. “It’s apolitical. So when the Alliance asked if we would host a sustainability symposium in August, of course we said yes. And it turned out that Administrator Gulliford was going to be in town on the date in question. He volunteered to talk about unused food donation, local food sourcing and composting. We’re not going to get into the policies of the Trump Administration. We’re going to celebrate the ways we work together and are excited to do it. There is no story here.”

Alliance Executive Director McClendon echoed Abernathy, telling GreenSportsBlog that Administrator Gulliford’s keynote “will not be political.”

That will likely be the case.

Administrator Gulliford told GreenSportsBlog that his talk will focus on “the very successful Cardinals-Region 7 partnership, the team’s impressive unused food donation program — they’ve delivered over 13,000 meals and composted 216 tons of food, and their strong recycling and composting program.”

This is a story that deserves to be told and the programs should be celebrated and replicated.


EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler (r) recognizes the St. Louis Cardinals for “A Decade of Partnership in Sustainability” at a recent ceremony at Busch Stadium (Photo credit: Facility Executive Magazine)


Yet it is also likely that symposium attendees would also be interested in hearing what the Administrator told GreenSportsBlog about the most pressing environmental issues of our time.

If they do, they would learn that Gulliford:

  • Is skeptical about the need for urgent action to address the existential threat posed by climate change, telling GSB, “I’m not a climate scientist. What I do know is that the climate has been changing for millennia.”
  • Supports the President’s decision to withdraw the USA from the historic 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which every country in the world has endorsed, “We shouldn’t be forcing market change from coal to renewables,” asserted Gulliford. “Countries with more lax environmental controls need to be making the clean energy investments more than we do.”



As mentioned above and per the Alliance, Gulliford will not be taking questions. He will give his keynote speech and then exit the stage.

GSB spoke about Gulliford’s Keynote with leaders of the Green-Sports movement, including three Alliance Board members and high-ranking executives from a respected environmental nonprofit. All agreed that inviting the Administrator to deliver an Opening Keynote without taking questions might reasonably be seen as an implied endorsement of the Trump Administration’s environmental policies by the Alliance and the Cardinals.

One Alliance Board member told me that giving the floor to a representative of an Administration that has done more to subvert environmental law — particularly without allowing for meaningful discussion — would ignore essential context. It would be akin to misinformation by omission.

Some did say they are open to hearing those with differing views on climate change speak at an Alliance-sanctioned event — “We can’t only talk to the people with whom we agree,” said one. But all who voiced that view said that such a discussion should only be considered if climate skeptics are questioned fairly and directly. Offering an Opening Keynote speech without an unfettered Q&A period was a non-starter for all.

Mitch Bernard, NRDC Chief Counsel and Interim President, has overseen dozens of successful lawsuits against this EPA. He offered an even stronger perspective:

“Having a speaker from the Administration that has done more to undermine environmental sustainability than any in the history of the USA at a sports-sustainability summit is a contradiction in terms. An opening keynote speaker should be a symbol of what the conference is about and, at the very least, be associated with affirmative environmental action. I respectfully urge the Alliance and the Cardinals to change course and find a replacement keynote speaker for Mr. Gulliford.”


Mitch Bernard, NRDC (Photo credit: NRDC)


That is unlikely with only a few hours remaining before the talk. The possibility of adding a Q&A session to the Opening Keynote was under discussion by the Alliance and the Cardinals as recently as Monday. GreenSportsBlog will not be in St. Louis for the symposium but we have been in contact with people involved with the event. To our knowledge, as of Tuesday night the agenda has not yet been changed and Administrator Gulliford is set to speak without taking questions.

Alliance ex-President and co-founder Allen Hershkowitz wrote to both the Cardinals and the Alliance earlier this month when the EPA Keynote was first announced. He suggested that a more appropriate speaker should have been found.

“The St. Louis Cardinals helped create the Green-Sports movement and Joe Abernathy, their VP for Facilities, is a true sports sustainability hero,” Hershkowitz noted. “I have no doubt that this conference will provide valuable information to many people. However, even a passing understanding of how this Administration is undermining science, ignoring environmental laws, and threatening public health raises serious questions that any representative from this administration’s EPA should be obligated to explain. Concern about this administration’s environmental policies is bipartisan. It would be a lost opportunity not to use this moment to raise questions about many of the environmental policies this administration is pursuing, so many of which go against the agenda of the sport and sustainability movement.”


GSB’s Take: The invitation to offer Administrator Gulliford a keynote address at the St. Louis Sports and Sustainability Symposium distracts from what promises to be an otherwise valuable event. 

For the reasons eloquently offered above by John Walke and Mitch Bernard of NRDC as well as others, the Cardinals and/or the Alliance should not have offered the invitation.

With that in mind, I go back to a question I raised early in this post:

Why would the Green Sports Alliance and the Cardinals give a platform to a senior representative from this EPA, an agency viewed by many as putting nothing less than the future of humanity at risk?

Could it be that the invitation stems from a desire to be bipartisan?

Executive Director McClendon emphasized the Alliance’s bipartisanship during our conversation.

Thing is, I don’t see how offering a keynote address to a high-ranking official of an Administration led by a man who calls climate change “a hoax by the Chinese” as being bipartisan.

What is bipartisan, according to peer reviewed studies by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications (YPCCC) and other respected groups, is support for the reality of global warming/climate change. A December 2018 YPCCC survey showed that 70 percent of moderate-to-liberal Republicans and 42 percent of conservative GOPers believe global warming is happening.

So having a speaker from an Administration that opposes the bipartisan consensus on climate change seems not to be, well, bipartisan.

Maybe the offer to Administrator Gulliford was an unforced error?

Conference organizers either did not consider the political implications of the invitation or do not believe them to be significant. None of the Alliance board members with whom I spoke were consulted before the invitation was offered, giving some credence to the unforced error theory.

Perhaps the apolitical nature of Administrator Gulliford’s speech is all that matters?

Gulliford’s talk will focus on the Cardinals-Region 7 relationship, food recovery and donations and will likely not get into climate change, Paris and the rest.

Apolitical and not a big deal, right?


To me, given what the Trump EPA is doing and with what’s at stake with the climate crisis, this is a very big deal.

Going forward, it says here, the Alliance should not give a prominent speaking slot to a high-ranking official of the Trump Administration’s EPA. Because no one is immune from being judged by the company they keep.


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