EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is working with the beef industry to end the Clean Water Rule.
Pruitt lent his face to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the largest trade organization in the country representing the beef industry, for a promotional video encouraging farmers and cattle ranchers to submit comments on the Obama-era rule’s repeal before August 28. The video is also being promoted by the lobbying group’s policy arm, Beltway Beef.
“We’re trying to fix the challenges from the 2015 rule, where the Obama Administration reimagined their authority under the Clean Water Act and defined a Water of the United States as being a puddle, a dry creek bed, and ephemeral drainage ditches across this country, which created great uncertainty,” Pruitt says in the video. “And we are fixing that, and then we’re hearing from stakeholders about how to get it right as we go forward.”
Pruitt’s language in the video appears to be borrowed, almost verbatim, from the American Farm Bureau Federation, which spent $3.8 million on lobbying last year.
It’s also not the Trump administration’s first involvement with promotional video campaigns that constitute a conflict of interest. Until early May, President Donald Trump himself was featured in a promotional video for Trump Tower Manila, which he said would be “something very, very special, like nobody’s seen before,” according to the Washington Post.
Asked by E&E News whether the EPA had OK’d Pruitt’s interview with a group that spent more than $115,000 lobbying last year, a spokesperson reportedly responded: “It’s absurd that E&E thinks we need their permission on what media outlets we can accept interview requests from.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is not a media outlet; it’s a lobbying group representing Big Beef. Its website, which features a page on their opposition to the Clean Water Rule, also states that the rule “creates confusion,” though the rule was actually created to clarify an older law, the 1972 Clean Water Act that governed all “navigable waters.”
The Clean Water Act made it illegal to dump waste into “navigable waters” without a permit, but it didn’t define what those waters were, leaving open-ended whether streams and wetlands that fed into larger, navigable bodies of water were covered under the Act. Obama’s executive order clarified that they did — any body of water, navigable or not, that shared a “significant nexus” with clearly navigable waters was covered under the Act, per Obama’s proposed rule. The rule also carves out exemptions for agriculture, and it doesn’t regulate most drainage ditches — the types of waterways that Pruitt and the American Farm Bureau Federation cite as the source of their confusion.
The rule has been held up in the courts since it was first proposed in 2015, in challenges mounted by both the industry and Pruitt himself, who sued the EPA as Oklahoma’s attorney general, claiming that it “usurps” state authority and adds an unnecessary regulatory burden. According to Pruitt’s LinkedIn, he’s still “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
On February 28, President Trump issued an executive order instructing agencies to review the Clean Water Rule and in late June, the EPA said it would move to repeal it.
Pruitt has been an unusually secretive administrator so far, instructing employees to leave their phones outside during meetings, taking calls in buildings besides the EPA’s offices, and locking the doors to the floor he works on, according to the New York Times.