On Feb. 17, Scott Pruitt was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He subsequently resigned his position as attorney general of Oklahoma.
As that state’s attorney general, Pruitt sued EPA 13 times in an attempt to overturn several rules, including: those impacting the amount of pollution emitted by power plants, such as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards; the Waters of the United States rule, which provides EPA protection to millions of acres of wetlands and millions of miles of streams; and the 2015 revision to 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
According to a press release on the EPA web site, however, Pruitt “believes promoting and protecting a strong and healthy environment is one of the lifeblood priorities of the government, and EPA is a vital part of that mission.”
According to the press release, which did not include any quotes from Pruitt, he “will lead EPA in a way that our future generations inherit a better and healthier environment while advancing America’s economic interests.”
“Scott Pruitt is the leader America needs at the EPA,” commented U.S. Rep. David McKinley (D-WV). “He understands that we can protect our environment with common sense policies that don’t attack job creators and send thousands of workers, like West Virginia’s coal miners, to the unemployment line. In Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt tirelessly fought unwarranted regulations and federal government abuse. I am confident he will bring a pragmatic and balanced approach to the EPA by returning it to its original and lawful mission.”
The press release from EPA doesn’t mention the lawsuits Pruitt has filed against the agency, some of which still are in litigation. Instead, it focuses on his work with his Democratic counterpart in Arkansas to reach an agreement to study the water quality of the Illinois River that crosses between the two states. Pruitt also was involved with a water rights settlement between the State of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations that preserved the ecosystems of scenic lakes and rivers on native lands. The agreement, which required Congressional approval, was signed into law on December 2016.
A number of additional legislators from coal-producing states such as West Virginia and energy-producing states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri praised Pruitt’s nomination, as did business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Auto Alliance and the National Association of Home Builders.
“We are confident that under his leadership, Pruitt will restore balance to the way environmental regulations are developed. Manufacturers look forward to him getting to work right away,” said NAM President Jay Timmons. “Manufacturers know it’s possible to have responsible environmental stewardship and robust economic growth at the same time. We are leaders on sustainability and developing emissions-reducing innovations, and as we look to find solutions to the environmental challenges we face, manufacturers will continue to lead the way.”
Agricultural groups, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council also heaped praise on Pruitt’s nomination. Craig Uben, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said: “For far too long, the EPA has been a runaway bureaucracy largely out of touch with how its policies directly affect folks like cattle ranchers, who use – and responsibly care for – the environment while providing the safest and most abundant food supply in the world. Scott Pruitt will restore some common sense to environmental policy and we look forward to working with him on restoring regulatory sanity to Washington, such as by killing the onerous ‘Waters of the United States’ rule.”
Energy industry groups such as the Edison Electric Institute and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers also praised the choice of Pruitt to lead EPA. “His experience and leadership skills will be an asset to EPA and the country,” said Chet Thompson, President and CEO, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. “We are confident that Administrator Pruitt understands that environmental protection, economic growth, and energy security are not mutually exclusive, but rather require reasonable balancing. Under his leadership, we can realize the president’s America First Energy Plan, which embraces our country’s potential to be an energy superpower while simultaneously protecting the environment.”
Pruitt’s opponents have been just as vocal in their lack of support for the incoming EPA administrator, going so far as to call him “the most dangerous EPA administrator in history.”
“Scott Pruitt is now set to be the most dangerous EPA Administrator in the history of our country. Pruitt has taken millions of dollars from corporate polluters, and has protected their interests at every turn – yet, he is now in charge of protecting our children from the dirty air and toxic water created by these very same polluters,” said Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune.
A coalition of more than 500 local, state and national environmental, civil rights, faith, labor, business, public health and community organizations sent a letter to U.S. senators opposing the choice of Pruitt prior to his confirmation.
“We could write a book detailing Pruitt’s anti-environmental views,” noted the group in the letter, adding, “He has bragged about repeatedly suing the agency he is now being asked to run… Pruitt as EPA administrator would be a disaster for the environment. But it’s worth noting that environmental harm also means human harm. When water is polluted by factory farms, it means that people living down stream get poisoned. When air is polluted by power plants and refineries, it means people living nearby get poisoned. When water systems are allowed to deteriorate and there is insufficient federal response – like in Flint, Michigan – it means people get poisoned.”
Another coalition of 230 environmental, health and public interest groups sent a letter to members of the Senate, which stated in part: “Mr. Pruitt has repeatedly argued that EPA should have little or no role in protecting Americans’ health and well-being from air and water pollution. Thus, he apparently rejects fundamental provisions of the Clean Air Act that require the EPA to set national public health standards – standards that guarantee protection to all Americans, regardless of where they live, and protect states from a ‘race to the bottom’ in which they are pressured to compete for industry by offering lax health and environmental standards.”
That coalition letter pointed out that “There is a long bipartisan history in this country of supporting clean air, clean water and a healthy environment. The American public did not vote for more air and water pollution, for more pesticides in our foods or for more toxic chemicals in toys. The American people did not vote to put the EPA in the hands of someone who has recklessly worked against its mission to protect Americans’ health and the natural environment.”
Pruitt spoke to EPA employees on Feb. 21 for approximately 15 minutes, telling them: "I seek to listen, learn and lead with you to address these issues we face as a nation."