The Trump transition team has named Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who earlier this year called climate change “far from settled,” as the next chief administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pruitt is one of 27 state attorneys general currently suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, which cuts emissions from coal-fired power plants. The decision to put him in charge of the agency is a flashing signal that the Trump administration is serious about cutting back environmental regulations. On his own LinkedIn page, Pruitt says he is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
So, what might the EPA’s new agenda under Pruitt’s leadership look like?
As attorney general for Oklahoma, he has been quick to sue the government, though mostly unsuccessfully, and the EPA has been a main target. In 2015, he lost challenges to EPA rules on transboundary pollution between states, and on regulations to reduce emissions of mercury and toxic airborne substances. However, earlier this year he won a case to stop the Department of the Interior from listing a species as endangered because efforts to protect it could interfere with oil drilling and exploration.
Though Pruitt clearly has a hostile history with the EPA, his ties to Oklahoma’s large but declining fossil fuel industry are famously close, and have raised serious concerns among environmentalists. In 2014, the New York Times published evidence that Pruitt had allowed Devon Energy, an Oklahoma-based oil company, to write letters for him to send as comments to federal agencies, including the EPA. He also has close personal ties with Harold Hamm, the billionaire founder of fracking company Continental Resources, who served as the chairman of Pruitt’s reelection campaign.
Environmental groups are warning that with Pruitt heading the EPA, the fossil fuel industry will have friends in very high places. “You couldn’t pick a better fossil-fuel industry puppet,” May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement. “The EPA should be limiting carbon pollution and putting the brakes on reckless oil and gas development — not defending Big Oil and putting the planet’s future at risk.”