POLITICS
01/17/2017 09:44 am ET

Scott Pruitt Has Sued The Environmental Protection Agency 13 Times. Now He Wants To Lead It.

“It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.”

Bloomberg via Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump has made no secret of his hostility toward the Environmental Protection Agency. He has repeatedly called for its elimination, telling Fox News in 2015 that the environment would be just “fine” without it.

Activists say Trump has followed through on those threats in nominating Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, a man who has sued the agency 13 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Pruitt, a climate change denier with close ties to the fossil fuel industry, has a long record of attacking the EPA and undermining environmental regulations. On his LinkedIn page, Pruitt refers to himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

“During the campaign, Mr. Trump regularly threatened to dismantle the EPA and roll back many of the gains made to reduce Americans’ exposures to industrial pollution, and with Pruitt, the president-elect would make good on those threats,” said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research and advocacy organization. “It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.”

The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment by issuing regulations and enforcing the nation’s environmental laws. Under President Barack Obama, the EPA created the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants. It also issued new guidance for the Clean Water Act to protect thousands of waterways and wetlands, and introduced measures to limit emissions from heavy-duty trucks and reduce smog and mercury emissions from industrial sources.

Last November, EPA chief Gina McCarthy said she was confident a Trump administration would not be able to derail the agency’s progress over the last eight years. “EPA has done its job well,” she said

Experts, however, say they’re not so sure. A number of EPA regulations could be rolled back or simply not enforced. Even more complicated rules like the Clean Power Plan could be severely undermined. Pruitt, activists stress, would prioritize cooperation with industry over regulatory rigor.  

It’s this simple: If senators take seriously their job of protecting the public, they must vote no on Pruitt. Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists

“The EPA plays an absolutely vital role in enforcing long-standing policies that protect the health and safety of Americans, based on the best available science,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement last month. “Pruitt has a clear record of hostility to the EPA’s mission, and he is a completely inappropriate choice to lead it.”

The EPA is not a perfect agency ― the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, highlighted that ― but it does do a lot of important work with national and global ramifications.

“Scott Pruitt has a record of attacking the environmental protections that EPA is charged with enforcing. He has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement last month. “Our country needs — and deserves — an EPA administrator who is guided by science, who respects America’s environmental laws, and who values protecting the health and safety of all Americans ahead of the lobbying agenda of special interests.”

With Pruitt’s confirmation hearing scheduled for Wednesday, several activist groups have called on the Senate to refuse his appointment.

“It’s this simple: If senators take seriously their job of protecting the public, they must vote no on Pruitt,” Kimmell said.

Here are four reasons why Pruitt has been called a “dangerous” choice to lead the EPA:

  • 1 He has threatened to undermine protections for air and water.
    Reuters
    President Donald Trump is no environmental champion, but even he has said it's “vitally important" to have “crystal clean” air and water. Pruitt, however, has proven himself to be antagonistic to even this idea.

    Since taking office as Oklahoma’s attorney general in 2011, Pruitt has sued the Environmental Protection Agency on multiple occasions in an effort to overturn rules limiting air pollution from power plants -- including the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which curbs power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which place limits on the amount of mercury, arsenic and other toxic pollution.

    As Elliott Negin, a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained in January, those are both life-saving regulations: “Taken together, they are projected to prevent 18,000 to 46,000 premature deaths across the country and save $150 billion to $380 billion in health care costs annually. In Pruitt’s home state, the two regulations would avert as many as 720 premature deaths and save as much as $5.9 billion per year.”

    Pruitt sued the EPA in 2015 over the Waters of the United States rule -- which, in a piece co-written with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), he called the “greatest blow to private property rights the modern era has seen.” The rule, which is currently tied up in the courts, extends EPA protection to tens of millions of acres of wetlands and millions of miles of streams, including those that 1 in 3 Americans rely on for drinking water.

    Pruitt also sued the EPA over its 2015 regulation strengthening the national health standards for ground-level ozone or smog pollution.

    Several of these lawsuits are still ongoing, and environmental advocates have called on Pruitt to recuse himself from decisions related to the regulations he’s challenged in court. Legal experts told Bloomberg, however, that they knew of no rules in place that would compel such an action on Pruitt’s part.

    “Every American should be appalled that President-elect Trump just picked someone who has made a career of being a vocal defender for polluters to head our Environmental Protection Agency,” Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, said in a December 2016 statement. “He has fought Environmental Protection Agency pollution limits on toxic substances like soot and mercury that put us all at risk for increased cancer, childhood asthma and other health problems. He falsely claims that fracking doesn’t contaminate drinking water supplies.”
  • 2 He doesn’t think the EPA is the “nation’s foremost environmental regulator.”
    Nick Oxford/Reuters
    During a House Science Committee hearing last year, Pruitt stressed that the EPA might need to intervene on some “air and water quality issues that cross state lines,” but that the agency “was never intended to be our nation’s foremost environmental regulator.”

    “The states,” he said, “were to have regulatory primacy.”

    As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt created a “federalism unit” with the specific aim of opposing federal protections and safeguards, including the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulations.

    Under Pruitt, the EPA will likely witness “an increasing effort to delegate environmental regulations away from the federal government and towards the states,” Ronald Keith Gaddie, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, told The New York Times. 

    Though states may be best equipped to regulate certain industries, some experts have stressed that environmental protection is one area that needs more federal oversight. 

    “Pollution doesn’t respect state boundaries,” Patrick A. Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School, told the Times. “States have limited ability to regulate pollution from outside the state, and almost every state is downstream or downwind from other pollution.”
  • 3 He doesn’t believe in climate change.
    Getty Images
    The EPA’s stance on global warming has been unambiguous.

    Climate change is happening,” the agency said on its website, adding that the EPA is “taking a number of common-sense steps to address the challenge” of warming, such as developing emissions reduction initiatives and contributing to “world-class climate research.”

    Pruitt, like most of Trump’s Cabinet picks, is a climate change denier. Ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus on the matter, Pruitt wrote last year that the debate on climate change is “far from settled.” 

    Gina McCarthy, the previous EPA chief, warned in November that denying the facts about climate change would undermine the United States' success both domestically and internationally. Other countries “are wondering if the U.S. will turn its back on science and be left behind,” she said. 

    “The train to a global clean-energy future has already left the station,” McCarthy added. “We can choose to get on board — to lead — or we can choose to be left behind, to stand stubbornly still. If we stubbornly deny the science and change around us, we will fall victim to our own paralysis.”
  • 4 He’s a close ally of the fossil fuel industry ...
    Getty Images
    … and their relationship has observers deeply concerned.

    Since 2002, Pruitt has received more than $300,000 in contributions from the fossil fuel industry, including from political action committees connected to Exxon Mobil, Spectra Energy and Koch Industries. The New York Times reported in 2014 that he and other Republican attorneys general had formed an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” with major oil and gas companies to undermine environmental regulations. One of the firms, Oklahoma’s Devon Energy, drafted a letter for Pruitt to send to the EPA in 2011. Pruitt printed the document on state letterhead and sent it off, almost verbatim, to Washington.

    As attorney general, Pruitt also filed several lawsuits with industry players, including Oklahoma Gas and Electric and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, a nonprofit group backed by major oil and gas executives. In May 2016, Pruitt joined then-Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in writing an opinion piece defending Exxon Mobil and other energy groups, after the oil giant came under scrutiny for allegedly failing to disclose its internal research on climate change.

    The Times asked Pruitt in 2014 whether he’d been wrong to send letters to the federal government written by industry lobbyists, or to side with them in litigation. Pruitt was unapologetic.

    “The A.G.’s office seeks input from the energy industry to determine real-life harm stemming from proposed federal regulations or actions,” his office said in a statement. “It is the content of the request not the source of the request that is relevant.”

    Opponents, however, say Pruitt is a Big Oil ally — someone who, as EPA administrator, could prioritize industry interests over the health of the environment and the American people.

    “This is a frightening moment,” Harvard University professor Naomi Oreskes said at a rally in December, referring to Trump's Cabinet picks. “We have seen in the last few weeks how the reins of the federal government are being handed over to the fossil fuel industry.”

    “From denying settled climate science to leading the opposition of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Pruitt has sent a loud and clear message to Big Oil and its well-funded mouthpieces that he’s their guy,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who is one of the senators calling for Pruitt to disclose more details on his connection to some oil-funded groups, according to Mother Jones. “To put a climate denier at the helm of an agency working to keep our environment safe is as dangerous as it gets.” 

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, echoed similar concerns: “The American people must demand leaders who are willing to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. I will vigorously oppose this nomination.”

    It’s not just Pruitt’s fossil fuel connections that have raised eyebrows. A recent Environmental Working Group investigation found that Pruitt gave a regulatory pass to polluters from the poultry industry after receiving $40,000 in campaign donations from executives and lawyers representing poultry companies. 

    “Very clearly, this is someone coming in [to lead the EPA] with an ideology to deregulate at whatever government level he finds himself,” Cook, the EWG head, told The Huffington Post. “There’s no saying that ‘we just have a different philosophy’ about who should enforce environmental law. The philosophy, if it exists, is that environmental policy shouldn’t be enforced at a state or federal level. It is industry unrestrained.”

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Dominique Mosbergen is a reporter at The Huffington Post covering climate change, extreme weather and extinction. Send tips or feedback to dominique.mosbergen@huffingtonpost.com or follow her on Twitter

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