By Natural Resources Defense Council
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s nominee to be EPA Administrator, has fought for years to prevent EPA from limiting the carbon pollution from power plants that is driving dangerous climate change. EPA’s Clean Power Plan establishes the nation’s first ever limits on carbon pollution from the nation’s largest emitters: coal- and gas-fired power plants that account for one-third of all U.S. climate-changing pollution. Mr. Pruitt has filed multiple lawsuits alongside coal companies and other fossil fuel interests to halt the Clean Power Plan since it was proposed.
Climate Change and the Clean Power Plan
Climate change is an urgent threat to our nation. Increasing temperatures are causing more intense droughts, wildfires, and extreme weather. Failure to curb the pollution driving climate change will worsen air quality, triggering more asthma attacks and other respiratory issues. Sea level rise and severe weather threaten our coastal communities at home, and climate change threatens our national security by fueling instability around the world.
The Clean Power Plan is the most significant step the U.S. has taken to combat climate change. The Clean Power Plan will also reduce other dangerous power plant pollution, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides that contribute to dangerous soot and smog pollution. By lowering these emissions, the Clean Power Plan is projected to prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays each year.
The Clean Power Plan is projected to yield up to $20 billion in climate benefits, plus public health benefits of $14 to $34 billion each year. These massive benefits outweigh the Plan’s total projected cost of compliance, $5 to $8 billion per year.
Polling shows that a majority of Americans are concerned about climate change. And a recent survey shows that a majority of Trump voters support upholding or strengthening current climate change policies and requiring U.S. companies to reduce carbon emissions. Any efforts by the President-elect and his cabinet to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other environmental safeguards will be against the will of the American public.
Oklahoma AG Pruitt Sides with Polluters and Campaign Contributors
Over and over, Mr. Pruitt has sued—side-by-side with the fossil fuel industry—to block EPA’s efforts to protect public health and curb climate change. He has joined coal companies and dirty power producers in filing multiple lawsuits to overturn EPA’s standards to cut toxic air pollution and reduce soot and smog pollution from power plants. He even sued to overturn EPA’s finding that climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare, arguing against the overwhelming body of scientific evidence EPA relied on to reach that conclusion. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals strongly rejected these anti-science arguments and upheld EPA’s determination.
Moreover, Mr. Pruitt has sued EPA repeatedly to block the common-sense Clean Power Plan.
First, Mr. Pruitt and his allies, including Murray Energy, Peabody Energy, and the Utility Air Regulatory Group (representing mainly coal-heavy power companies) sued EPA in the D.C. Circuit to stop the proposed Clean Power Plan rule, despite the clear rule of administrative law that only final agency regulatory actions may be challenged in court. A conservative three-judge panel threw out the cases, noting that Petitioners “want us to do something that they candidly acknowledge we have never done before: review the legality of a proposed rule. But a proposed rule is just a proposal.”
Less than a month later Mr. Pruitt—this time represented by the private law firm BakerHostetler—sued EPA again in federal district court in Oklahoma, asking that court to block EPA from finalizing the proposed Clean Power Plan. The district court judge dismissed the case, finding that the challenge was premature and that her court was the wrong place to challenge the eventual final rule. Mr. Pruitt and his private law firm appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit denied Oklahoma’s request.
Mr. Pruitt and his big coal allies filed yet another premature lawsuit against EPA in the D.C. Circuit prior to the Clean Power Plan’s publication, seeking an emergency order stopping the rule. Once again, the court rejected the suits.
When the final Clean Power Plan was published, Mr. Pruitt and his allies brought a fourth lawsuit against the EPA, with Oklahoma again represented by BakerHostetler. Mr. Pruitt often notes that the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, issued a stay of the Clean Power Plan pending the D.C. Circuit’s decision, and any appeals. But a stay is not a win on the merits. A panel of ten D.C. Circuit judges heard the case on the merits in a day-long argument in September, and most court watchers observed that the hearing did not go well for the challengers. A decision in the case is expected soon.
Mr. Pruitt and his allies also sued to block EPA’s carbon pollution standards for new power plants, and that litigation pending while his EPA nomination is pending. The case is scheduled for oral argument in April.
Mr. Pruitt will stop at nothing to protect his coal, oil, and gas industry supporters from facing limits on their carbon pollution emissions. He should not be placed at the helm of the agency responsible for limiting those harmful emissions. His confirmation as EPA Administrator would put public health and the environment at risk. Senators should not confirm him.