With the synapse-frying onslaught of news (not to mention alternative facts) surging out of the White House in the 11 days since the inauguration, it’s hard for even the most engaged observer’s attention not to stray from—oh, just to pick one relevant example—the egregious unfitness of nominee Scott Pruitt to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. And so, as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee prepares for a Wednesday vote to send Pruitt’s nomination to the full Senate for confirmation, it seemed a worthy exercise to pull together an accounting of Pruitt’s various disqualifications for the job.
Without further ado:
- Pruitt has spent his tenure as Oklahoma Attorney General relentlessly suing the very agency he is now on tap to “lead.” Since taking office in 2010, he has brought or joined 14 separate suits, nearly always in collaboration with energy interests, designed to undercut or overturn the agency’s authority to enforce environmental regulations. He has challenged limits on mercury pollution (twice), efforts to reduce ozone pollution, and clean air standards for oil and gas drilling sites. He has challenged the determination that greenhouse gas pollution endangers health and the environment, and has participated in four separate suits challenging the carbon-emissions-reducing Clean Power Plan. And during his confirmation hearings, Pruitt refused to commit to fully recusing himself from involvement in the still-pending cases that he himself has brought against the agency.
- He has unapologetically served as a well-compensated ventriloquist’s dummy for energy interests. According to a tally by the National Institute of Money in State Politics, Pruitt has received a total of nearly $315,000 in campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries since 2002. A 2014 investigation by the New York Times found that a three-page letter Pruitt submitted to the EPA accusing regulators of grossly overestimating air pollution caused by natural-gas drilling in Oklahoma had been written by lawyers for Devon Energy and copied onto state letterhead with a few minor tweaks to the wording. (The company’s director of government relations sent an appreciative note in response: “Outstanding!”) Oklahoma Gas & Electric held a fundraiser for Pruitt four days before he filed an appeal in their case against the EPA. And Trump energy adviser Harold G. Hamm, CEO of oil and gas giant Continental Resources, served as chairman of Pruitt’s most recent reelection campaign. When a group aligned with Hamm sued the Department of the Interior to block consideration of adding the Lesser Prairie-Chicken to the endangered species list, Pruitt hopped aboard that lawsuit as well.
- He is a climate-change obstructionist, hiding behind the canard that there’s still room for debate on the magnitude of global warming and the role humans have played in causing it. Here’s how Pruitt parsed that in his confirmation hearing earlier this month: “Let me say to you, science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure the extent and degree of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.” (To which Sen. Bernie Sanders later retorted: “ ‘Impacts’! If that’s the kind of EPA Administrator you will be, you’re not going to get my vote.”) Apparently the overwhelming consensus of the world’s climate scientists—not to mention peer-reviewed research showing that climate change endangers half of America’s birds—isn’t sufficient in Pruitt’s world to end the “debate” and move on to action. This is important because it is the EPA that bears the responsibility for implementing (among other measures to reduce carbon pollution in the atmosphere) the Clean Power Plan, which was put on hold after it was challenged in court by electrical utilities and 28 states—including, of course, Oklahoma and Scott Pruitt.
- He is a states-rights absolutist whose position that environmental protection should be left to the states is undercut by his own poor record of protecting the environment in Oklahoma. Of the hundreds of press releases his office has published touting achievements during his tenure, not a single one mentions a victory on behalf of the environment. When the EPA announced in 2014 that it would be conducting “preliminary research on the EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing,” Pruitt lashed out at the effort as “politically motivated” and falsely claimed that previous studies had definitively found no link between fracking and groundwater contamination. (The final EPA report, published in December, did find that fracking can negatively impact drinking water “under some circumstances.”) Meanwhile, during Pruitt’s time in office, Oklahoma has become one of the most seismically active states in the country, with the annual number of earthquakes increasing by an order of magnitude, into the thousands. What’s driving the earthquake epidemic? According to state geologists and scientists from Stanford, it’s the enormous pressure fracking puts on faultlines.
So there you have it: President Trump’s nominee to head the agency responsible for safeguarding America’s air and water is a man whose record as Oklahoma attorney general demonstrates an overriding commitment to safeguarding the interests of the fossil fuel industry and his own wallet. It’s hard to imagine a person less fit for the job of leading the Environmental Protection Agency.