If there were any doubt that president-elect Donald Trump supports fossil fuels and does not believe in the scientific consensus of climate change, his pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should put it to rest.
Yesterday, he named Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, a 48-year-old Republican, as his nominee for EPA administrator.
Pruitt has said publicly that climate science "is far from settled" and has sued the agency he is to head three different times to blunt or overturn its regulatory powers over his state's fossil-fuel industries and electric utilities.
Pruitt is a major supporter of fossil-fuel industries, having joined oil, gas, and coal companies in battling the agency's regulatory powers.
His website contains an official biography that proudly proclaims him "a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda."
As The Washington Post notes, "Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the very agency he is being nominated to lead."
U.S. Capitol Building
Early in his career, Pruitt sued to prevent the EPA from settling lawsuits brought by environmental groups like the Sierra Club. He sued in 2014 to overturn the EPA's Regional Haze Rule, intended to maintain clear air around national parks. Last year, he sued to block a rule that limited the mercury coal plants were permitted to emit.
The first suit was dismissed; Pruitt lost the other two. That didn't stop him from joining with more than 20 states attorneys general to sue to overturn the Clean Power Plan.
The Trump transition team said in a news release that Pruitt “brings a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy" and called him "an expert in Constitutional law."
The release also termed the EPA "an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn."
Pruitt will "reverse this trend," said the Trump team, and "restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”
The president-elect noted that his administration “strongly believes in environmental protection."
Gina McCarthy, nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator
Pruitt said he plans to run the EPA "in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”
Pruitt has battled the EPA's Clean Power Plan, which requires every state to decide how best it will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the climate-change gas emitted when fossil fuels are burned.
He said in interviews last fall that his concern is with the process through which the plan was enacted, calling it "overreach" and "something from a constitutional and statutory perspective that causes great concern.”
"I greatly appreciate the leadership Attorney General Pruitt has shown in suing to stop the EPA’s Clean Power Plan," said Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) as quoted by Bloomberg, "and look forward to watching him dismantle it piece by piece as EPA administrator."
Pruitt also fought efforts by attorney generals in other states to press ExxonMobil for information about whether the company failed to disclose material information about climate change, calling such efforts "governmental intimidation" of the oil giant.
Environmental groups reacted to the news with outrage.
“It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile E.P.A. administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history,” Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, told The New York Times.
Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, 2014
“We need an Environmental Protection Agency 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," said Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America.
"President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt meets none of those criteria."
The Sierra Club headlined its release simply, "Scott Pruitt is unfit to serve as as EPA administrator."
“Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires," said its Executive Director Michael Brune. "He is a climate science denier who, as Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, regularly conspired with the fossil fuel industry to attack EPA regulations."
The Heartland Institute, on the other hand, issued a release that was virtually orgasmic in its delight.
"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!" exulted H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow in environment and energy policy at the ultra-conservative pro-business lobbying group that has consistently fought against the science of climate change.
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He lauded the choice of Pruitt, describing him as "a man who has fought to uphold federalism, the limits placed upon the federal government in the Constitution, and sound policy on energy and environmental issues."
“Pruitt has sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule, its Waters of the United States rule, and the Clean Power Plan," Burnett continued.
"So it seems there is hope the next administration will finally rein in the runaway EPA—by withdrawing or rewriting those and other rules in a way that respects freedom and economic progress, or by deciding not to defend the rules in court. One small appointment for Trump, one giant leap for environmental sanity.”
Confirmation battle promised
Trump's choice of Pruitt to lead an agency that has traditionally protected the environment, however, may not necessarily be a slam-dunk appointment.
Bloomberg suggests that a Senate confirmation fight may be in the offing, noting that several senators immediately said they would oppose his nomination, including Ed Markey [D-MA].
Pruitt is "unsuitable to lead the EPA," Markey said, due to his history of "carrying water for Big Oil."
Nominations for cabinet officials can be confirmed by majority vote in the U.S. Senate, and can no longer be filibustered.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Pruitt's nomination to run the environmental agency he has fought for years will be considered by the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, whose head is to be Senator John Barrasso (R-WY).
While environmental groups are laying the groundwork for that battle, they acknowledge that it will be a major and challenging fight.
"We are totally mobilizing on this one," Senator Ben Schatz (D-HI) told reporters. "It will be extremely difficult" for Pruitt to be confirmed, he said.
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