By Rhea Suh, Natural Resources Defense Council
Of course we can balance environmental progress with economic growth.
As delegates from nearly 200 countries gathered in Germany this month to advance global action to fight climate change, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt addressed a group of oil and gas executives meeting behind closed doors at a Houston hotel.
Convening in the city that was just inundated with its third “500-year” flood in three years, attendees at the private America First Energy Conference shrugged off the science demonstrating how climate change is making Houston vulnerable to increasingly devastating storms.
Instead, they celebrated the rise of President Trump’s theme of “energy dominance, which, for the industry, translates into drill anywhere, anytime, any particular way you choose, and let’s not worry about what any of it means for the environment or public health.
All that made this crowd the perfect audience for Pruitt. He couldn’t be bothered to join world leaders addressing the central environmental challenge of our time in Bonn, where the official U.S. delegation shamelessly peddled coal, oil, and gas instead of promoting climate and clean energy progress. Pruitt hung back in his soundproof phone booth so he could keep working to cripple the EPA.
“Washington has become way too consequential in the lives of Americans across the country, and the president has elected to change that,” Pruitt told attendees at the Houston conference in the videotaped address. “The attitude when we arrived said you can’t be about growth and jobs and also be a good steward of the environment. That’s inaccurate. That’s a false narrative.”
It’s a lie, alright, but Pruitt’s the one who’s been telling it—not the career professionals at the EPA, and certainly not those who were in place when the Trump administration “arrived,” as Pruitt put it.
President Obama had been in office less than two months when he explicitly called for policies that bolster economic growth without imperiling the environment and public health. It was a theme Obama repeated throughout his term, as did both of the EPA administrators who served him.
The record speaks even more directly. Between 2009 and 2016, while the administration strengthened safeguards to protect our environment and health, the U.S. economy grew an inflation-adjusted 16 percent and added 11.3 million jobs in the longest unbroken stretch of job growth in U.S. history.
As President Richard Nixon stressed to critics when he established the EPA in 1970, not only could the nation afford to protect the environment but that, indeed, it couldn’t afford not to do so. Since then, the U.S. economy has nearly tripled in size, growing 264 percent, while cutting dangerous pollution and energy waste dramatically.
Why, then, won’t Pruitt tell the truth about the EPA’s long history of successfully balancing environmental progress with economic growth? Because his aim is to put polluters first and put the rest of us at risk—exactly as the fossil fuel industry has directed him to do.
The Houston conference was sponsored by a fossil fuel front group, the Heartland Institute, based in a Chicago suburb. Its website calls for doing away with the Paris climate agreement, ending support for wind and solar power, eviscerating protections for clean water and air, and rolling back standards that help us get better gas mileage in our cars, save our families real money at the pump, and reduce our carbon footprint per mile. It features issue briefs with titles like “Coal Fuels Freedom” and “Global Warming Won’t Overflow the Chesapeake Bay,” which would be welcome news to the U.S. Navy, if only it were true.
We face no greater threat to our environment and health—at home and abroad—than Trump, Pruitt, and the rest of the toxic minions this administration has put in place.
They’re not protecting our families, our communities, or our future. They’re exposing all that to growing peril for the sake of polluter profits, in defiance of sound science, global consensus, and the national interest this administration has cynically sworn to uphold.
That’s an agenda we all have a duty to stand up and resist, in the court of public opinion, and in our courts of law.