Among Donald Trump’s many contentious appointments to key cabinet positions, attorney general of the oil-rich state of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, has been selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has built a reputation defending the interests of corporations in the fossil fuel industry, and is now stepping in to lead an agency that has made a goal of limiting fossil fuel use.
Pruitt has long been at odds with the EPA: on his homepage bio he notes that he has fought against the “EPA’s activist agenda,” challenging the agency on the constitutional limitations to their power in his role as AG of Oklahoma. He says he intends “to run [the] agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection for the environment and freedom for American businesses” and save money by reducing “unnecessary EPA regulations”.
As head of the EPA, Pruitt will have numerous responsibilities, from supporting the diversity and sustainability of ecosystems to overseeing the enforcement of federal laws regarding human health and the environment.
But Pruitt has hotly contested that last responsibility since 2011 when he was elected AG of Oklahoma, and he has been part of numerous suits against the EPA, most of which claim the EPA acting in excess of its limitations. He has challenged the EPA on nine different occasions over regulations regarding coal plants, emissions reductions, and EPA procedures. Most notably, he has joined a coalition of 24 states and numerous coal, oil, and gas companies challenging the agency for federal overreach in an attempt to “reorganize the nation’s energy grid” and raise prices on fossil-fuels and increase energy prices. Pruitt and the coalition argue that the EPA doesn’t have the authority to regulate emissions under the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, which were designed to curb acid rain, urban air pollution, toxic emissions and stratospheric ozone depletion. The disagreement is over whether or not this amendment gives the EPA the power to enforce regulation to these ends, and what type of activity falls under those four categories.
Pruitt’s intentions to reduce the scale and influence of the agency run directly against certain aspects of the EPA under the Obama administration. Although both address the value and necessity of protecting water sources and maintaining air quality, Pruitt does not think that regulating carbon emissions is the right approach. However, the EPA under the Obama administration made anthropogenic climate change its main focus; in the FY 2014-2018 Strategic Plan addressing climate change was the number one goal. Pruitt has expressed doubts about the source and legitimacy of climate change. He penned an op-ed showing disapproval with what he believes is overly aggressive regulation of fossil fuel based on science that is still up for debate.
Pruitt’s intentions to reduce the scale and influence of the agency run directly against certain aspects of the EPA under the Obama administration.
Furthermore, Obama’s agency believed that when Congress passed a law pertaining to the environment, it was in the agency’s power to come up with the regulation that would achieve Congresses’ goals. Meanwhile, Pruitt has said “the EPA is exerting [authority] that [I] think is entirely inconsistent with its constitutional and statutory authority” and that the EPA shouldn’t “pinch hit” for Congress. Pruitt is expected to shrink the role and authority of the EPA drastically; Donald Trump already said during his campaign that he himself believes that the Obama administration has “spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs” and that Pruitt “will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and water clean and safe.”
Many environmentalists and scientists are fearful of the reduction in regulation and reversal of direction they foresee under Pruitt; there is worry that he will dismantle or negate what they see as major legislative steps forward under the Obama administration, particularly the Clean Power Plan, which limited emissions from coal-fired plants, and Waters of the United States, which defined a new set of wetlands and rivers under government protection. However, those two major pieces of legislation have not been in place long enough to be subject to the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to override agency action within 60 days without the 60 senate votes typically needed. Anything Obama has passed recently (including his methane emissions standards and big-truck fuel efficiency standards) or passes in the closing days of his term is vulnerable.
Anything Obama has passed recently (including his methane emissions standards and big-truck fuel efficiency standards) or passes in the closing days of his term is vulnerable.
Democrats in the Senate are gearing up for a fight, with many promising to fully resist Pruitt’s nomination and reaching across the aisle for support as well. While some have taken comfort that the structures and legislation of Obama’s two major environmental achievements are too entrenched and settled to be removed with ease, they must be ready to protect them. Pruitt and Trump alike have expressed desire to see these monumental laws removed above all else.
UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, Scott Pruitt has been confirmed by the Senate as the 14th administrator of the EPA.