Americans have the privilege of living in one of the most unique, biodiverse countries in the world. The nation is home to almost every conceivable biome—lush forests, thundering rivers, harsh deserts, jagged spines of mountains, sweeping prairies, frigid tundra, and everything in between. America is truly beautiful, from sea to shining sea. That’s why, even with the hyper-partisan tendencies of contemporary politics, any American sees the value of protecting the environment.
In case you’ve forgotten (which would be understandable, considering the sheer amount of outrageous opinions spewing forth from our venerable commander-in-chief), President Donald Trump counts himself among these anti-environmentalists. In his infinite wisdom, Trump has discounted climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” promised to expand drilling areas for natural gas and oil companies, vowed to reinvigorate the dying, toxic coal industry, and wants to essentially dismantle any Obama-era environmental regulation. The most damning part of Trump’s agenda for the environment, however, may be the man he tasked with protecting it: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
To understand Trump’s decision to have Pruitt spearhead the Environmental Protection Agency, first one must look at Pruitt’s background. Elected as Oklahoma’s seventeenth attorney general in 2011, Pruitt immediately dissolved the office’s Environmental Protection Unit—a sign of what was to come. Pruitt has sued the EPA a total of fourteen times, most notably attempting to block both the Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States rule. He also attempted to sue the agency he now heads on behalf of Oklahoma’s utility providers for emission regulations placed on the companies’ coal-burning power plants. To this day, none of Pruitt’s lawsuits have yielded any results.
The most disturbing part of Pruitt’s past isn’t the litany of frivolous lawsuits he’s embroiled the EPA in, it’s the fact that he’s the puppet of special interest groups and private corporations. Pruitt’s head-scratching decisions to pursue litigation against the EPA for anything and everything make much more sense when you follow the money. The oil and gas industry has gifted over $300,000 in donations to Pruitt’s campaigns over the years, and Devon Energy (one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and natural gas providers) actually had their lawyers draft a three page letter to the EPA about the agency overestimating natural gas pollution—then Pruitt promptly slapped it on his own stationery, signed it, and sent it on its way to Washington.
The most telling incident of Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma AG took place soon after he was elected. The northeastern region of Oklahoma, home to the Illinois River watershed, had received a massive influx of pollution from poultry companies in neighboring Arkansas. Phosphorus and nitrates from chicken manure caused massive algae blooms in the area’s lakes, rivers, ponds and streams, contaminating the entire area. Rather than continue the cleanup efforts his predecessor helped start, Pruitt decided the appropriate move would be to shelve the decontamination process in favor of simply studying the problem. The lawsuits filed against the poultry companies attempting to make them clean up their own mess also disappeared quietly. Why? Could it have something to do with the over $40,000 that executives and lawyers from many of these poultry companies donated to Pruitt’s Attorney General campaign? I guess we’ll never know.
Thus, the man charged with heading the Environmental Protection Agency has sued it multiple times, has a cozy relationship with corporate interests in the energy industry, and is a self-described “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Now, with more power and environmental oversight than he ever had as Oklahoma AG, Pruitt is gearing up for a full-scale assault on the environment. The former attorney general isn’t just using his new position as a platform to state his views—he’s actively undermining the role of science in the EPA. Pruitt has apparently placed climate change science in his crosshairs, as he recently decided to give climate change dissenters a larger voice in the EPA. He and his staff have already begun preparing a “red team-blue team” exercise to challenge mainstream climate science– which has already undergone a rigorous, peer-reviewed process from other scientists to become a universally accepted claim within the scientific community. “I think this is fundamentally a dumb idea,” Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, said in an email to the New York Times. “It’s like a red team-blue team exercise about whether gravity exists.” Pruitt has denied the effect of carbon dioxide as “primary contributor” to global warming, contradicting years of research in both the government and private sectors. He’s even dismissed the majority of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, experts and scientists tasked with advising the EPA on policy.
The Clean Water Rule is another program on Pruitt’s chopping block, another law he tried to sue into oblivion during his time as AG. The legislation simply defines which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, and repealing it could endanger millions by polluting their drinking water. Pruitt has repeatedly said that the states should decide the level of regulations applied to their waterways– but not all states can. 36 states, according to a study conducted by the Environmental Law Institute “have laws that could restrict the authority of state agencies or localities to regulate waters left unprotected by the federal Clean Water Act.” Killing the Clean Water Rule, and waiting for Pruitt and the agency to craft a replacement, will have real, tangible effects on the environment.
This is just the beginning. Multitudes of necessary regulations and initiatives for the future will soon be attacked by Pruitt, and the mission of the EPA will be sullied even further by this corporate shill. Pruitt has not been afraid to show where his allegiances lie, choosing time and again to support his campaign donors and their industries over the people he is supposed to protect. His lifelong fight against regulations is not some ideological crusade– it’s a strategy to secure funds and support from the energy sector. Pruitt masquerades as some sort of free-market ideologue, but in reality, he is a small, selfish man who has consistently disregarded the welfare of the environment in favor of his own interests.