On Monday, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt addressed EPA employees for the first time since being confirmed as EPA administrator. His remarks were brief, lasting just under fifteen minutes. In that time, the former Oklahoma Attorney General expounded on his views of regulation, called for greater cooperation between the federal government and states, and chatted about his love of baseball.
But nowhere in the speech did Pruitt mention climate change, which is quite possibly the greatest environmental threat facing both the United States and the planet.
For people familiar with Pruitt’s background, that’s not really a huge surprise. Pruitt has consistently questioned the mainstream consensus on climate change, arguing that there is still a great deal of debate about whether it is happening and what is causing it (in reality, there is a 97 percent consensus among actively publishing climate scientists that climate change is both occurring and primarily driven by human activity). As early as last year, Pruitt likened climate change to “a religious belief” and called calls for climate action the equivalent of a “political bumper sticker.” Pruitt also has publicly established ties to industry, including the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, an investigation by the New York Times showed Pruitt sending a letter of complaint to the EPA in his role as Oklahoma Attorney General, drafted by Devon Energy, the largest energy company in Oklahoma.
In recent years, the EPA has attempted to curb the primary contributor to climate change — the burning of fossil fuels — by enacting emission limits on power plants and vehicles. Pruitt has pledged to revoke at least one of those regulations — the Clean Power Plan — which he challenged as part of a lawsuit brought by 26 attorneys general against the EPA. All told, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma Attorney General — a fact that did not make it into the biography portion of Monday’s EPA address.
“Scott Pruitt’s inaugural speech did nothing to address our grave concerns about him,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “It’s clear that he wants to take the environmental cop off the beat and let Big Polluters have free reign to pollute our air and water, and damage our health and climate. Pruitt has been a shill for the fossil fuel industry his entire career, and there’s no reason to believe he’s going to stop now that he’s the head of the very agency in charge of protecting human health and the environment.”
Pruitt’s address also failed to mention public health, an issue central to the mission of the EPA. In his confirmation hearing, Pruitt said that he would have to review the science before saying whether there is a safe level of lead for human consumption. In that case, the science is clear — there is no level of lead considered safe for human consumption, especially in young children. During the same hearing. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) pressed Pruitt on why, in his capacity as Attorney General, he never filed a lawsuit on behalf of children suffering from asthma in the state of Oklahoma, which has some of the highest rates of asthma in the country. Pruitt argued that there was no injury to the state of Oklahoma in those cases.
“Clearly asthma is triggered and caused by air pollutants. Clearly there’s an air pollution problem,” Booker responded. “And the fact that you have not brought suits against the industries that are causing the pollution is really problematic when you’re gonna sit in a position that is nationally gonna be affecting this reality.”