Scott Pruitt has made it clear during his first year heading up the Environmental Protection Agency that he has no intention of taking steps to protect Americans from dangerous pollution. Nevertheless, one year into his tenure, it still hasn’t become normal to hear the nation’s top environmental cop express utter disregard for the mission of his agency.
“As you look at your particular agency, what’s the one thing that you reflect on as being the thing you’re most proud of?” Pruitt was asked Friday night at the CPAC annual convention in National Harbor, Maryland.
Pruitt cited President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement as the proudest moment in his first year as EPA administrator.
Any other EPA administrator — aside from President Ronald Reagan’s controversial EPA chief Anne Gorsuch Burford — would have used this softball question to highlight an actual environmental achievement. But Pruitt views his mission as doing whatever it takes to weaken the EPA in the shortest time possible.
“The president showed tremendous fortitude, tremendous courage to stand in the Rose Garden in June and say, ‘You know what. I’m going to put America first,'” Pruitt told the CPAC audience, referring to the easily debunked argument by the Trump administration that the Paris agreement would place the United States at an economic disadvantage to China and India. “His decision on Paris knocked it out of the park,” he added.
But even if Pruitt had wanted to name an actual environmental achievement, it would have been an exercise in futility: the EPA has not made any significant moves to protect Americans from pollution over the past year.
If Pruitt were to leave the EPA and take over as attorney general this spring, as some have rumored, major staff cutbacks and regulatory rollbacks would be his legacy. He would also be remembered for the taxpayer-paid army of security guards hired to protect him, the construction of an expensive privacy booth in his private office, and pricey first-class trips around the world.
For the CPAC attendees, though, they view Pruitt’s regulatory rollbacks as an achievement. The moderator, Republican consultant Charlie Gerow, prefaced his question about Pruitt’s proudest moment as EPA administrator by touting the “staggering amount of accomplishments” at the EPA. “Few could ever have anticipated what this administration has accomplished in 365 days,” Gerow said.
Gerow also asked Pruitt to lay out his goals as EPA administrator in the coming years. Once again, Pruitt ignored the environment and identified economic growth as his top priority.
Using one of his go-to words, Pruitt complained that President Barack Obama had turned the EPA into an agency that was “weaponized” against some sectors of the economy, especially the coal industry. The agency should operate in a way that’s not punitive to industry, he emphasized.
After displaying his pro-coal credentials by telling the audience about his visit to a coal mine early in his tenure as EPA administrator, Pruitt claimed the Trump administration is “not in the business of picking winners and losers.” Give Pruitt some credit. He was able to make this statement with a straight face.
Despite Pruitt’s claims to the contrary, Trump’s Department of Energy spent much of 2017 favoring coal and nuclear plants over cleaner energy sources like wind and solar by trying to get federal regulators to approve special subsidies for traditional energy.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, even with a Republican majority all appointed by Trump, refused to buy into the administration’s efforts to pick winners and losers in the power generation sector. In early January, the agency rejected the Trump administration’s controversial proposal.