6 times Trump’s EPA head did exactly what industry told him to

The Environmental Protection Agency has gone pro-business.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, left, shakes hands with coal miners during a visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company’s Harvey Mine last week. CREDIT: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, left, shakes hands with coal miners during a visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company’s Harvey Mine last week. CREDIT: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt came to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promising to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, a priority for the coal industry and utilities, and to get rid of methane standards, a priority for the oil and gas industries.

Shortly thereafter, President Donald Trump issued a wide-ranging executive order on climate, which calls for a rewrite of the Clean Power Plan and Obama-era limits on methane leaks. But the order is just one example of how the EPA is prioritizing industry demands over public health and environmental protection.

In exactly two months as EPA head, Pruitt has issued several orders complying with oil, gas, chemical, and automobile industry preferences.

Companies petition the EPA to delay the risk management planning rule. Pruitt complies.

On February 28, the EPA received a petition from a coalition of industry groups asking the agency to delay the risk management planning rule, which was finalized during the last days of the Obama administration. The rule was intended to improve safety measures at facilities that handle hazardous chemicals, like fertilizer plants. The coalition opposing the rule includes groups like the American Petroleum Institute, the American Fuel & Petrochemical manufacturers, and the Chamber of Commerce. On March 16, the EPA issued an administrative stay, delaying the rule.

Automakers ask Trump to reopen review of fuel economy standards. Pruitt does.

Executives from 18 auto companies sent Trump a letter in February asking for the EPA to review the fuel efficiency standards for vehicles manufactured between 2022 and 2025. Under the Obama administration, the EPA had decided to make no changes to the rules — neither strengthening nor reducing standards. Pruitt told the Senate in January that he planned to review the standards, and on March 15, Trump officially ordered the review, appeasing the auto industry.

State officials ask the EPA to drop an information request about methane pollution by the oil and gas industry. Pruitt does.

On March 1, nine attorneys general and two governors from fossil fuel-heavy states wrote a letter to Pruitt asking him to suspend a 2016 information request and stop collecting data on methane emissions at oil and gas operations. On March 2, Pruitt obliged, and more than 15,000 oil and gas operators and producers are no longer required to provide information about methane leaks at their facilities. In an interview on CNBC, Pruitt specifically said the request was withdrawn “after hearing from industry.”

Dow sends the EPA a letter, and the EPA agrees not to ban a Dow-produced pesticide tied to human health impacts.

In November, chemical company Dow AgroSciences filed a public comment asking the EPA not to ban the pesticide chlorpyriphos, which is known to cause severe damage to the nervous system, posing a threat to farm workers and rural residents who could ingest the pesticide in drinking water. The pesticide was already banned for household use, but is still used on about 40,000 farms in the United States. Last month, Pruitt denied a petition to ban the chemical, handing a win to Dow AgriSciences, and keeping thousands of families and farm workers at risk. The EPA is now being sued over the decision.

Utilities ask the EPA to reconsider the rule stipulating how much toxic waste coal plants can discharge. The EPA agrees.

On March 24, the industry group Utility Water Act Group filed a petition asking Pruitt to reconsider the EPA’s rule that prohibits coal power plants from dumping toxic metals like arsenic and mercury as waste water. In mid-April, Pruitt decided to reconsider the final rule, gifting the fossil-fuel industry the unregulated ability to pollute streams with toxic chemicals.

After industry lawsuits, the EPA asks the court to delay an Obama-era smog rule.

Since the 2015 ozone standards were established, industry members and associations have consistently asked the EPA to review the ozone rule, which is stricter than the previous 2008 standards. When serving as attorney general for Oklahoma, Pruitt repeatedly sued the EPA over pollution rules, including ozone and smog standards. On April 7, the EPA asked the U.S. Court of Appeal to postpone oral arguments in a case over the 2015 smog standard, set by the EPA under the Obama administration. Four days later, the court granted the delay. Trump’s EPA intends to review the standard.

Pruitt has consistently said that he thinks environmental regulations are too burdensome to industry, costing too much money and killing jobs.

But not only are the EPA’s environmental rules rooted in rigorous scientific analysis — intended to ensure human health and well-being are protected — they are also developed according to cost-benefit analysis procedures. The cost-benefit analysis takes into account not just the cost to industry, but also the cost to human health and, notably, the benefit to other industries and to people. That is, while a utility might find it cheaper to dump toxins into waterways, that same action might have a cost to recreational fishing companies and the tourism industry.

There have been no reports of Pruitt accommodating requests from the outdoor recreation industry.