Yesterday, 447 former employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that details their concerns about Scott Pruitt’s qualifications to serve as EPA administrator. The unemotional appeal lays out the facts directly and clearly—and, as such, reads as a scathing condemnation of the Oklahoma Attorney General.
“Our perspective is not partisan,” the letter reads. “Having served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, we recognize each new Administration’s right to pursue different policies within the parameters of existing law and to ask Congress to change the laws that protect public health and the environment as it sees fit.”
“[I]n the large majority of cases it was evident to us that they put the public’s welfare ahead of private interests,” they write. “Scott Pruitt has not demonstrated this same commitment.”
The letter opens by justifying the existence of the EPA, explaining why President Nixon created a federal agency, with federal powers, to set national standards for pollutants (based on sound science) and give states the freedom to meet those standards as they wish. The basic justification is that pollution doesn’t recognize state boundaries; water or air pollution will readily drift from one state to the next. As a result, federal authority is necessary to ensure that one state respects another’s rights to clean air and water, and that states don’t sacrifice their citizen’s health by creating lax environmental laws to compete for business.
They also highlight the precautionary principle—the idea that the EPA should act preemptively to protect the environment and the public’s health from the dangers of pollution using the best possible science, even before all the evidence is in. For example, the agency did not wait for certainty when it reduced lead levels in gasoline and particle pollution from smokestacks, and saved countless lives as a result.
Having set up this baseline for comparison, the former EPA employees then describe Pruitt’s environmental record when he served as Oklahoma’s Attorney General over the past six years:
While serving as Oklahoma’s top law enforcement officer, Mr. Pruitt issued more than 50 press releases celebrating lawsuits to overturn EPA standards to limit mercury emissions from power plants, reduce smog levels in cities and regional haze in parks, clean up the Chesapeake Bay and control greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, none of Mr. Pruitt’s many press releases refer to any action he has taken to enforce environmental laws or to actually reduce pollution. This track record likely reflects his disturbing decision to close the environmental enforcement unit in his office while establishing a new litigation team to challenge EPA and other federal agencies.
While he failed to pursue environmental protections, he instead went "to disturbing lengths” to help businesses in Oklahoma, the former employees write:
[H]e signed and sent a letter as Oklahoma Attorney General criticizing EPA estimates of emissions from oil and gas wells, without disclosing that it had been drafted in its entirety by Devon Energy. He filed suit on behalf of Oklahoma to block a California law requiring humane treatment of poultry. The federal court dismissed the case after finding that the lawsuit was brought not to benefit the citizens of Oklahoma but a handful of large egg producers perfectly capable of representing their own interests. To mount his challenge to EPA’s rule to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, he took the unusual step of accepting free help from a private law firm. By contrast, there is little or no evidence of Mr. Pruitt taking initiative to protect and advance public health and environmental protection in his state.
Alarmingly, he’s also denied public access to information about his connections to business:
Mr. Pruitt’s office has apparently acknowledged 3,000 emails and other documents reflecting communications with certain oil and gas companies, but has yet to make any of these available in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed more than two years ago.
The former employees draw particular attention to Pruitt’s denial of climate change, despite countless national scientific studies and international reports documenting human contributions to global warming and the grave risks such warming poses to public health and the environment. At his Senate hearing, he recognized that the climate is changing—but expressed doubt over man’s contributions to the problem. The letter reads:
This is a familiar dodge–emphasizing uncertainty about the precise amount of humanity’s contribution while ignoring the broad scientific consensus that human activities are largely responsible for dangerous warming of our planet and that action is urgently needed before it is too late. Mr. Pruitt’s indulgence in this dodge raises the fundamental question of whether he agrees with the precautionary principle reflected in our nation’s environmental statutes. Faithful execution of our environmental laws requires effectively combating climate change to minimize its potentially catastrophic impacts before it is too late.
Overall, their message is clear: Scott Pruitt is unfit to protect America’s environment and public health. An abysmal choice, even.
Read the full letter below: