The US Environmental Protection Agency has almost immediately been castrated and had any legitimacy it once had undermined after Scott Pruitt, US President Donald Trump’s controversial nomination to head the agency, was confirmed by the Senate last week.
Last week I reported on the upcoming confirmation hearing in the Senate to approve Scott Pruitt — “puppet of the fossil fuel industry” — as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an agency he sued 14 times as Attorney General of Oklahoma. Not only does Pruitt believe that the EPA has overstepped its bounds in regulating water and air pollution — including opposing the Clean Power Plan — he has also expressed his doubts about the scientific consensus on climate change:
“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review in early 2016. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”
In his confirmation hearing, however, Scott Pruitt explained that he didn’t believe his personal opinion about climate change was important — a charge that Senate Democrat Bernie Sanders was baffled by.
Nevertheless, this man is now in charge of the EPA, a move which was immediately condemned and evoked genuine concerns for the future of America’s environmental policies. I wanted to wait to write this article until the weekend had successfully passed us by, so that I could ensure as many people had spoken out as possible.
“The appointment of climate change-denying, fossil fuel ally Scott Pruitt is a complete environmental and public health disaster,” said Scott Banbury, Conservation Coordinator for the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Based on his record of putting polluter profits before people, Pruitt will undoubtedly be the most dangerous EPA Administrator in history.”
“Regardless of political view, background or income level, Americans want the government to protect our air, water and climate,” said Andrew Steer, President & CEO, World Resources Institute. “If Scott Pruitt rolls back these vital protections, the backlash will be fierce. Meanwhile, Americans’ health and economy would suffer.”
“As one of the most controversial EPA administrators to enter office, Pruitt has far to go to prove he will work on behalf of all Americans, not just industry.”
What I was not expecting this weekend — though maybe I should have — was the immediate change in public-facing attitude from the EPA. Earlier this year we saw how Donald Trump’s new administration had effectively muzzled numerous agencies, including the EPA, from speaking out via their public accounts and pathways. Not only was the EPA’s grant funding halted, but it was instructed to cease communication with the outside world. Just last week there were reports suggesting that as soon as Pruitt was confirmed, Donald Trump would begin dismantling the EPA. Specifically, insiders told Reuters that they had been told between two and five executive orders were primed and ready to be signed immediately.
Unfortunately, the first Tweet from the EPA’s official Twitter account since January 20 shows just how far Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt’s tentacles have already reached. Here are the two Tweets (note: the Clean Air Act will likely be one of the first policies on Pruitt’s chopping block):
.@GinaEPA shares a report about actions taken by the agency under the Clean Air Act during the last eight years. https://t.co/6RRF8WWCj1
— U.S. EPA (@EPA) January 19, 2017
We’d like to congratulate Mr. Pruitt on his confirmation! We look forward to welcoming him to EPA.
— U.S. EPA (@EPA) February 17, 2017
None of this is particularly surprising when a new administration sweeps in, but the 180° about-face that the agency has made is concerning. Two press releases greeted the incoming administrator, the first of which describes Pruitt as believing “promoting and protecting a strong and healthy environment is one of the lifeblood priorities of the government, and EPA is a vital part of that mission” — a statement which bears almost no resemblance to the truth or reality whatsoever. The second press release was filled with quotes from a number of groups all proud to welcome and express their relief for Pruitt’s confirmation: Unfortunately, there are no environmental groups as part of the list. They instead include groups such as CropLife America, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the National Cotton Council.
The policies that have been a bulwark against pollution of the air and waters, a curb on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, and overall control of industry’s impact on the environment are now on thin ice — or, more likely, already plunging through the thin ice and trying to desperately scramble back to the surface for air, air which they’ll never find before succumbing to the icy pull of the water and floating, slowly, inexorably, to the bottom, where they will die a silent death.
So that bodes well.
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