By Angela Anderson, Union of Concerned Scientists
President-elect Trump has promised to return the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to its original mission to deliver clean air and ‘crystal clear’ water. The EPA was established by President Nixon in 1970 because “Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food.” Those pollutants primarily come from the burning of fossil fuels in cars, trucks, and industrial sources like power plants and refineries. We need an EPA Administrator that will take us forward, to tackle the pollution challenges of today, and not take us back by weakening existing standards.
We need an EPA Administrator who protects our environmental laws, is guided by science when crafting and implementing policy, puts public health ahead of dirty energy special interests, and has the qualifications necessary to safeguard the American public from climate change. The EPA must also continue to be a lead agency on addressing environmental justice issues, a critical concern for low income communities and communities of color that bear a disproportionate health burden of pollution from fossil fuels.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt meets none of those criteria and hails from the very industry whose pollution the EPA was created to oversee.
Numerous reasons for Senators to oppose Pruitt’s nomination will come to light over the next days and weeks. And Senators would be wise to withhold their support until more is known. But here are three good reasons to consider:
- As attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt was no protector of public health and safety. He devoted his office to be the fossil fuel industry’s law firm. He set up a legal defense fund that fossil fuel companies could donate to, he used the prestige and resources of his office to file multiple suits on their behalf to interfere with EPA doing its job, and even signed letters to public offices that were ghost written by them. He was their lawyer, not ours, and he cannot be trusted as the head of EPA.
After a conference hosted by Pruitt’s office, the Republican AGs set a ‘strike force’ to block environmental protections. According to a Pulitzer Prize-winning expose by the New York Times, this handful of state officials worked to “detail major federal environmental action, like efforts to curb fish kills, reduce ozone pollution, slow climate change and tighten regulation of coal ash. Then they identified which attorney general’s office was best positioned to try to monitor it and, if necessary, attempt to block it.”
- Pruitt was one of the leading state AGs suing the EPA to block the Clean Power Plan, a policy that sets the first-ever limits on dangerous carbon pollution from power plants, a major driver of climate change, and encourages the development of clean, renewable energy. Pruitt is on record disputing the agency’s core legal authority, the Clean Air Act, and should be immediately disqualified from leading an agency he has fought tirelessly against. Pruitt even advised states to refuse to comply with the rules.
Pruitt’s opposition to the Clean Power Plan reflects his cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry as well as his dismissal, denial, and attempts to deceive the public around the science of climate change. According to an op-ed written by Scott Pruitt in Tulsa World, “Healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
- Pruitt’s close association with Howard Hamm threatens scientific integrity at the Agency. Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation. The Clean Air Act requires scientists to regularly review the nation’s standards for specific pollutants, like ozone, and the EPA is required to strengthen those standards in line with those scientists’ recommendations. It’s hard to imagine that Hamm, who was Pruitt’s campaign chair and longtime associate, won’t be whispering in Pruitt’s ear to disregard or even penalize the scientists on those panels.
The bottom line is that Mr. Pruitt is a completely inappropriate choice to head up the EPA: it’s like going into the Super Bowl and discovering that your quarterback actually plays for the opposing team. As UCS President Ken Kimmell said in a statement yesterday, “Pruitt’s statements and actions are in direct conflict with the job to which he has been nominated.”
In the days to come, UCS scientists and experts will be blogging from a variety of perspectives on why the job of the EPA Administrator matters so critically for the health and well-being of all Americans and for safeguarding the natural ecosystems that sustain our planet. The stakes are high for this appointment and we want to explain why we think the Senate should vote “no” on this appointment.
Please make your voice heard: tell your Senator to vote “no” on Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator.