Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt has accomplished an impressive feat: In only nine months in office, he has done more than any of his predecessors — even more than the divisive Anne Gorsuch under President Ronald Reagan — to roll back the EPA’s crucial functions and create a culture of fear among agency employees with years of expertise in environmental protection.
EPA observers contend Pruitt “has claimed the worst-ever title” from Gorsuch, who herself succeeded in shepherding through major agency budget cuts and rollbacks of new clean and air and regulations when the agency was in its infancy. But Pruitt is going several steps further by turning the agency into “a hollow shell by whacking its budget, overturning rules based on bogus reports and keeping employees in the dark,” according to one assessment of Pruitt’s brief tenure.
As criticism of his anti-environmental protection crusade from both Democrats and Republican has intensified with almost every action his agency takes, Pruitt is employing a misinformation campaign to justify his actions. For example, the former fossil-fuel friendly attorney general of Oklahoma told the Washington Post in an interview published Friday that he is more aggressive than the Obama administration on tackling pollution.
This statement falls flat on its face when it’s revealed that the EPA, under Pruitt’s leadership, has not released or even supported a single action to significantly reduce air pollution or water pollution. The Obama administration, on the other hand, addressed not only greenhouse gas emissions, but took actions to reduce harmful pollutants from power plants, toxic waste sites, and the transportation sector, regulations that Pruitt has been eager to roll back because they angered polluting industries.
“For Scott Pruitt, you see, corporations that pollute are ‘partners and allies,’ rather than regulated entities whose pollution EPA has a legal duty to regulate to protect Americans’ health and environment,” John Walke, senior attorney and clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, tweeted Friday in response to the Washington Post interview with Pruitt.
For @EPAScottPruitt, you see, corporations that pollute are "partners & allies," rather than regulated entities whose pollution EPA has a legal duty to regulate to protect Americans' health & environment. pic.twitter.com/46QD25lZsG
— John Walke (@jwalkenrdc) November 17, 2017
Pruitt defines aggressiveness, according to Walke, as prosecuting entities that pollute the air and water, not creating regulations that will institutionalize pollution protections. The EPA, under Pruitt’s leadership, “has not done either to any significant degree,” Walke noted.
In the entire Washington Post interview, Pruitt was unable to identify one action he is taking “to reduce air pollution significantly, or protect Americans from dangerous air pollution,” Walke said, noting that dismantling clean air and clean water regulations, not environmental protection, is Pruitt’s primary focus.
In response to a question about the $25,000 contract to build a secure, soundproof communications booth for him in his office, Pruitt told the newspaper that he would prefer if he did not have to walk down two levels at EPA’s headquarters where there is a secure information area — known as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) — to be able to speak with someone in a secure environment.
At CIA and NSA installations, where secrecy is paramount to each agency’s effectiveness, it is common for officials to walk to an area or a floor with a SCIF to conduct confidential business. Officials at these agencies have numerous conversations and meetings on a daily basis that require extreme secrecy.
In the interview, Pruitt again emphasized his goal of improving EPA’s operation of the nation’s Superfund program, mentioning that President Donald Trump has presented ideas to him on how to improve cleanup of Superfund sites. Ever since it was established more than 35 years ago, the Superfund program has been marked by an inability to get polluters to pay for cleanup and suffered from a lack of funding. So, a renewed focus on Superfund by Pruitt’s EPA would be a welcome development. If only it were true.
The Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget would cut Superfund by $330 million from its nearly $1.1 billion budget. Budget cuts at the federal level could put the fate of toxic sites across the country in the hands of chronically underfunded state environmental agencies.
Pruitt also told the Washington Post that his goal is to redefine what is true “environmentalism.” He believes “environmentalism” is about “environmental stewardship — not prohibition.” But these comments are a clear case of misdirection. Protecting the environment is at the core of the EPA’s mission, not quibbling over the definition of environmentalism.
Pruitt tried to justify the fact that he’s extremely close with the fossil fuel industry by claiming these relationships “will ultimately make the air cleaner and the water safer to drink,” the Sierra Club said in a statement Friday. In the statement, the environmental group contends “the worst EPA administrator ever would like you to believe he’s an environmentalist.”
“Scott Pruitt is an environmental steward in the same way the Marlboro Man is fighting lung cancer. Pruitt’s obvious disconnect from reality is dangerous to your health, and his systematic destruction of our clean air and water laws is one of the biggest crises in our federal government today,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in the statement.