Scott Pruitt, who is currently suing the EPA, is now the leader of the environmental agency
The Capitol is seen at sunup on Feb. 17, 2017.
Congrats, America: We now have a Senate-confirmed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) again.
Oh, except that administrator is Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA multiple times over what he sees as its overly aggressive environmental regulations. Plus, he denies the mainstream scientific conclusion that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause of global warming.
So, there are those little caveats.
Pruitt has also questioned the dangers of mercury contamination and other hazardous substances the EPA is in charge of regulating. His record is so one-sided that the Sierra Club calls him simply, "… The most dangerous EPA Administrator in the history of our country."
Pruitt’s reputation as an agency foe eager to give states more autonomy in regulating air and water pollution, combined with the EPA transition team’s gag order of the agency, has instilled so much fear among the EPA rank-and-file that agency scientists were among the thousands of people calling their senators on Thursday urging them to vote no on the nomination, a rare step for federal employees to take.
Pruitt, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Energy secretary nominee Rick Perry, all have expressed views doubting climate science findings, and each of them are in charge of agencies deeply involved with the U.S. response to the global issue.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt said he does not quite agree with the vast majority of climate scientists whose work has shown that greenhouse gases are causing global warming.
"I believe the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it," he said.
“If you don’t believe in climate science, you don’t belong at the EPA," said May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy group 350.org, in a statement on Friday.
What happens now?
Pruitt is expected to try to dismantle large parts of the EPA’s portfolio of regulations and science research put in place under prior presidents, particularly the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. Without that plan, the U.S. cannot live up to its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.
However, Trump may be poised to pull the U.S. out of that pact entirely, which would make dismantling the Clean Power Plan easier. Trump is also expected to sign executive orders as early as Friday that would begin rolling back the EPA’s climate change work, though it’s easier to order that than it is to actually accomplish it.
Remarkably, Pruitt was confirmed only hours after a judge in Oklahoma ordered the release of nearly 3,000 emails between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies from his time as attorney general.
We’d like to congratulate Mr. Pruitt on his confirmation! We look forward to welcoming him to EPA.
— U.S. EPA (@EPA) February 17, 2017
Senators never got a chance to factor those into their decision-making.
Senate Democrats tried in vain to delay the vote to allow senators to see the emails, which stemmed from a state lawsuit filed by the Center for Media and Democracy and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. Those organizations were concerned about Pruitt’s cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry there.
Pruitt’s backers, including mainstream Republican groups like FreedomWorks, see him as an administrator to will try to get red tape off the backs of business owners, despite studies showing that the EPA’s regulations don’t stifle job growth.
A 2014 New York Times investigation already established that Pruitt often did favors for the oil and gas industry, particularly for major donors to the Republican Attorneys General Association. These included writing letters to lawmakers and the EPA seeking regulatory changes.
In the end, Pruitt won confirmation narrowly, on a 52 to 46 vote, garnering the most "no" votes of any EPA nominee since the agency was founded in 1970.