Of all the people Donald Trump was considering to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), his eventual pick, Scott Pruitt, a fellow climate change denier, has the most dangerous ties to the fossil fuel industry. The news was announced today, after the Oklahoma attorney general beat out four other candidates, including climate change denier Myron Ebell.
Like his competition, Pruitt, a lawyer, possesses the following characteristics: a staunch disbelief in man-made global warming, a disdain for the EPA's regulatory power, and a strong yearning to undo President Obama's environmental policy, such as the proposed Clean Power Plan.
Pruitt, in his role as Attorney General, also has experience fighting environmental policies in court. His resume, according to the New York Times, notes him as "a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama's climate change policies." Earlier this year, Pruitt spearheaded a 28-state lawsuit in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia against alleged constitutional overstepping by President Obama's climate rules. The Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, and is essential to meeting Paris Agreement goals, was criticized by opponents for being an illegal power-grab by the EPA. The case is expected to move to the Supreme Court.
Pruitt's most anti-environment quality, however, is conflict of interest, stemming from his mutualistic relationship with the oil and gas industry. In 2014, a New York Times investigation revealed that Pruitt had assembled an alliance between Republican attorneys general and the nation's biggest energy companies, such as coal producer Murray Energy, and electricity utility Southern Company.
When Pruitt sent a scathing letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson regarding emissions regulations and air pollution, he concealed the fact that it had been drafted by lawyers for Devon Energy, an oil and gas company headquartered in his home-state, Oklahoma. The investigation found that letters sent from Pruitt to President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell were also written by Devon Energy.
"Outstanding!" wrote Devon Energy's Executive Vice President of Public Affairs to Pruitt's office, referring to the EPA letter. "The timing of this letter is great… We also appreciate the flagging of the issue for other AGs."
Yet, despite Trump's repeated threats to dismantle the EPA, the president-elect won't find it easy to completely gut the agency—even with Pruitt at its helm. Policy experts theorize that Trump can't just cancel rules like the Clean Air Act, which regulates the emission of hazardous air pollutants. Instead, the Trump Administration will need to chip away at EPA regulations through Congress, or simply stall or roll back existing laws.
One thing Pruitt can offer Trump, however, is his extensive legal know-how, which according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the attorney general has frequently exercised since accepting the position in 2011. So far, however, he hasn't been very successful.
"Pruitt has sued the EPA to stop vital protections for public health – including standards for reducing soot and smog pollution that crosses interstate lines; protections against emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases and other toxic pollutants from power plants; and standards to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas. Each time he failed," wrote EDF in a review of Pruitt's environmental record.
Still, with so many climate change regulations already in the GOP's crosshairs, Pruitt's nomination is certain to renege some of President Obama's environmental achievements. At the very least, it proves that Trump intends to follow through on his most devastating promises regarding our planet.
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