Scott Pruitt used his position as Oklahoma’s attorney general to repeatedly sue the Environmental Protection Agency for its efforts to regulate mercury, smog and other forms of pollution, and on Friday he was sworn in as the agency’s new leader, bringing into question the future of the EPA under the Trump administration.
The Washington Post notes that Pruitt has been outspoken in his belief that the EPA overstepped its legal authority under President Barack Obama and saddled the fossil-fuel industry with “unnecessary and onerous” regulations. That view is widely shared by Republicans, too.
Whatever Pruitt’s goals are in his new position, it will not be easy or quick to undo the environmental actions of Obama’s administration. President Donald Trump is expected to issue executive orders next week that are aimed at undoing Obama’s initiatives to combat climate change, oversee waterways and wetlands, and slash pollution from power plants, but even if those orders are issued as expected, existing policies and regulations won’t disappear overnight.
From the Post:
To reverse or revamp existing rules around vehicle fuel standards, mercury pollution or a range of other environmental issues, Pruitt would have to repeat the lengthy bureaucratic process that generated them. Other initiatives, such as the so-called Clean Power Plan aimed at regulating emissions from power plants, remain tied up federal courts.
In addition, Pruitt will encounter an EPA workforce on edge, in which some employees are wary about the direction he plans to take the agency and fearful he might adhere more to ideology than science. Environmental groups also are likely to oppose him at every turn, eager to sue over any rollback of existing regulations.
Pruitt has said that his goal is to return the agency to its central mission of protecting the quality of the nation’s air and water while respecting the roles of states as primary enforcers of environmental laws.
At his confirmation hearing last month, Pruitt said, “It is our state regulators who oftentimes best understand the local needs and the uniqueness of our environmental challenges.”
Senate Democrats held the floor for hours on Thursday night and through Friday morning, criticizing Pruitt and pushing for a delay of his confirmation. They cited an Oklahoma judge’s ruling late Thursday that Pruitt’s office must turn over thousands of emails related to his communication with oil, gas and coal companies by a Tuesday deadline.
Republicans said that Pruitt had been thoroughly vetted, and they pushed forward with the vote.
Pruitt was confirmed by a vote of 52-46, with Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota supporting his confirmation. The sole Republican holdout was Susan Collins of Maine, who voted against Pruitt.
“Scott Pruitt as administrator of the EPA likely means a full-scale assault on the protections that Americans have enjoyed for clean air, clean water and a healthy climate,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in an interview. “For environmental groups, it means we’re in for the fight of our lives for the next four years.”
One has to wonder what is contained in the emails that an Oklahoma judge has ruled must be turned over. This administration already has so many existing conflicts of interest, it would not be surprising to learn that Pruitt is in bed with oil, gas and coal companies.
One also has to wonder what Heitkamp had to gain by voting in support of him. The same can be said of Manchin, the Senate Democrat from the land of the coal mines.
At this point, we can only sit back and wait to see what happens.
Read more at the Washington Post.