DONALD TRUMP’S NOMINATION of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sure to make for robust debate during congressional confirmation hearings. An oft-cited ally of the fossil fuel industry, Pruitt has deep ties to some of the biggest coal and natural gas producing companies in the nation, and has continually sued the EPA over a litany of regulations since his election as Attorney General of Oklahoma in 2010.
Pruitt, celebrated by conservatives and a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, has ostensibly has led his crusade against the EPA under the banner of anti-federalism. He has continuously asserted that it is more appropriate for states, rather than the federal government, to regulate environmental issues.
It’s one of the oldest political debates in our nation’s history: just how much power should the federal government, in Washington D.C., have over the states, strewn across the continent of North America?
“There’s a mentality emanating from Washington today that says, ‘We know best,’” Mr. Pruitt said during his 2010 campaign. “It’s a one-size-fits-all strategy, a command-and-control kind of approach, and we’ve got to make sure we know how to respond to that.”
Reasonable? On the surface, it might seem so. Pruitt supports Oklahoma’s right to police itself, and believes there should be limits on how stringently a federal agency can enact law and subsequently regulate commerce in his state.
Yet this is where Pruitt’s close ties with leading energy firms will come under scrutiny: there are numerous recorded instances of Pruitt sending letters to the EPA condemning various regulations that were found to have been drafted by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of the largest oil and gas companies in Oklahoma. It’s one thing to oppose EPA regulations on the grounds that a federal agency is overstepping its constitutional boundaries, it is quite another thing to oppose EPA regulations because they might harm the bottom line of large businesses (and major donors to your political causes) in your state.
Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, a noted environmental organization behind the Beyond Coal campaign, has stated that “having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”
Advocates of environmental protection would be opposed to Pruitt’s running the EPA even if it was simple opposition to federal overreach that motivated his crusade. Yet his close ties to the oil and gas industry hint that his opposition to EPA regulation stems much deeper than this: he is in the pockets of companies in whose interest it is to deny that climate change exists, let alone sensibly regulate environmental policy.
For the past few years, Pruitt has wielded considerable power in his fight against the EPA as Oklahoma Attorney General, where he has pushed the agendas of prominent oil and gas companies. For those concerned about climate change, it is downright terrifying what he can now do as the man in charge of that agency itself.