By John Walke, Natural Resources Defense Council
President Trump has nominated Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to be administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Pruitt’s career reflects an extreme antagonism to the very agency the president wishes him to head, after Mr. Trump called for the EPA’s elimination. Mr. Pruitt’s Senate confirmation hearing was marked by him misleading senators, refusing to disclose energy companies from whom he solicited donations, and evading questions that prompted a scathing rebuke from environment committee senators.
Now Pruitt has responded to senators’ post-hearing questions with answers that are staggering in their contempt, extremism, and evasions. My colleagues and I are still poring over the full set of responses, and I will follow up with more disclosures. But the following initial set of reckless stances by Pruitt make clear that he is thoroughly unfit to become administrator of the EPA.
EPA’s Job-Enforcing Laws & Protecting Americans
Senators asked Mr. Pruitt to identify any EPA regulation on the books today that he supports. He did not name any. Not one. The EPA has enforced U.S. environmental regulations for 47 years under both Republican and Democratic administrations. This is the person that President Trump has nominated to be the chief law enforcer of all U.S. environmental laws. He cannot or will not name one EPA regulation he supports.
Removing Lead from Gasoline
Asked whether “removing lead from gasoline was an important and successful EPA rulemaking,” Pruitt refused to agree. His six-word response was almost as staggering: “I have not evaluated this issue.” Removing the brain poison lead from gasoline was a historic EPA achievement, which led countries across the globe to follow the Unites States’ leadership and improved billions of peoples’ lives as a result.
Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
Senators asked Pruitt if he would continue to enforce the EPA’s historic Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which for the first time set national standards to reduce mercury, lead, arsenic, acid gases, and cancer-causing chemicals from our nation’s power plants. Pruitt sued—and failed—to overturn these 2011 health protections, which are saving up to 11,000 lives and avoiding 130,000 asthma attacks, mostly among children, every year.
Pruitt’s response was deeply troubling and a circular non-answer at the same time. He said he would “enforce the Mercury Air Toxics rule so long as that rule remains in force.” Translation: He will enforce the rule until he, Pruitt, decides as EPA administrator to overturn the rule by siding with the coal and utility companies that he joined with to file lawsuits against the rule in the first place. His calculated response preserves his full ability to kill the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards so that the rule no longer “remains in force.”
Senators noted that power plants are the nation’s largest emitter of mercury and dozens of toxic air pollutants and that they demand rigorous controls under the Clean Air Act’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. They then asked Pruitt how else he might address these air toxins, if not with this rule. He responded that he would consider exempting power plant mercury and other toxic air pollution from control altogether under the Clean Air Act.
Smog & Soot Standards
Pruitt gave the same, highly troubling, circular non-answer to senators’ questions about whether he would continue to enforce the EPA’s historic Cross State Air Pollution Rule, which reduces smog and soot pollution from the nation’s power plants. Pruitt sued—and failed—to overturn these health protections, which are saving up to 34,000 lives and avoiding 400,000 asthma attacks, mostly among children, every year. Pruitt once more said he would enforce the rule so long as it “remains in force.” Again, this means he will enforce the rule until he decides as EPA administrator to overturn the rule by siding with the coal and utility companies that sued to overturn these life-saving protections with him.
Conflicts of Interest at the EPA
Senators asked Pruitt whether he would permanently recuse himself from lawsuits he has filed against the EPA and related rulemakings were he to become EPA administrator, due to unavoidable conflicts of interest from “switching sides” in these matters. Pruitt agreed that professional ethics obligations prevented switching sides in one’s own lawsuits, but he went on to say those ethical bars would not apply to his role as EPA administrator because he would not “be representing the EPA as a lawyer” if he were confirmed. This is outrageous. It is a chilling indication of his intention to act as EPA administrator with inherent conflicts of interest in matters where he alone at the EPA would hold the authority to abandon the agency’s defense of lawsuits that he filed against it, and to sabotage the targeted clean air and clean water safeguards.
Contempt for the Senate Confirmation Process
Senators asked Pruitt to provide them with information and documents concerning his ties with energy companies, contracts with private law firms, potential conflicts of interest, lawsuits he filed against the EPA, and more. Pruitt actually told the senators to go get the information themselves by filing requests under the Oklahoma open records law—and he told them to do this an astonishing 18 times. There have been pending requests to the Oklahoma attorney general’s office by private citizens for more than two years seeking documents about Pruitt’s ties with fossil fuel companies and conservative political operations. Senate Republicans plan to hold an environment committee vote on Pruitt’s nomination as early as next week. So Pruitt’s directive to senators to file Oklahoma open records requests is the political equivalent of saying “go pound sand.”
What Is Scott Pruitt Trying to Hide?
Pruitt’s open contempt for the Senate confirmation process echoed his behavior at his January 18, 2017, confirmation hearing. When Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked him from which energy companies and other corporations he had solicited donations on behalf of two political organizations, Pruitt refused to say. He responded, incredibly, that if the senator named a company, then Pruitt would indicate whether he had solicited money. It was a remarkably arrogant game of “bring me a rock” by Pruitt. The senator would mention a name and Pruitt would say no (not a rock), then again (not a rock), until it became clear that he would not disclose the information that he knew. After a few rounds of this, the senator’s five-minute time for questions expired.
Scott Pruitt’s responses to Senate confirmation questions demonstrate that he is deeply unfit to be EPA administrator. His answers show contempt for the Senate confirmation process, extreme hostility about EPA and its mission, and evasiveness in the face of senators’ and Americans’ right to judge his suitability for the important responsibility of leading the EPA. Mr. Pruitt does not deserve to be chief law enforcer of America’s environmental laws. Senators should not confirm him.