Scott Pruitt’s guiding philosophy is ‘cooperative corporatism,’ per senator

EPA chief encourages states to take the lead while proposing reduction in financial assistance.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) attacked EPA chief Scott Pruitt's interpretation of "cooperative federalism" at Senate hearing on April 10, 2018. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) attacked EPA chief Scott Pruitt's interpretation of "cooperative federalism" at Senate hearing on April 10, 2018. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s favorite talking points is “cooperative federalism,” a principle that, in theory, means the federal government and states work together to solve problems.

Over the past year, though, Pruitt has promoted a one-sided form of cooperative federalism that aims to undermine states that implement stringent controls on air pollution, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said Tuesday at a congressional hearing.

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“When you get beyond the rhetoric, Pruitt isn’t really interested in cooperating with states,” said Whitehouse, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. “His real interest is cooperating with corporations, which have bankrolled his entire political career. You might actually call it cooperative corporatism.”

During the hearing, the Senate committee examined how the Clean Air Act can be enforced through cooperative federalism. Top environmental officials from California, Delaware, Texas, Kentucky, and Wyoming testified at the hearing.

From an environmental standpoint, cooperative federalism means the EPA and states work together to reduce pollution, according to Whitehouse. The work entails doing scientific analysis, gathering data, writing rules, setting targets, and enforcing the rules and targets.

But Pruitt has “sullied the doctrine of cooperative federalism just as his disregard for EPA’s mission has sullied the agency,” Whitehouse said. “And his actions stand to sully our environment.”

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Pruitt is facing calls to resign over a long list of ethical scandals, including news that he rented a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy industry lobbyist for $50 per night last year. Aside from the scandals, Pruitt has come under attack over the past year for his deference to industry polluters and his anti-environment agenda.

Last week, for example, Pruitt announced rollbacks of the tailpipe emissions standards for automakers established by the Obama administration. The decision is expected to increase greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions from the transportation sector — the largest carbon-emitting sector in the nation.

And while officials from several states during Tuesday’s hearing welcomed the agency’s decision to pursue the repeal of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and other regulations, the California and Delaware officials criticized Pruitt’s lax stance on polluters.

“It is deeply disappointing that the Trump administration recently announced its intention to weaken and potentially dismantle the [state’s auto emissions] program without meaningfully consulting with California, and despite overwhelming public opposition,” said Matthew Rodriguez, secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Through a Clean Air Act waiver granted by the EPA, California can impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions of certain pollutants than federal requirements. This would allow California to continue to pursue strong emissions cuts despite the EPA’s rollback of the auto emissions standard. The agency, under Pruitt’s leadership, however, said it is still examining whether the waiver should be eliminated.

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In a April 2 statement, Pruitt said “cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” even though 12 other states and the District of Columbia voluntarily adopted California’s stricter emissions standards.

California is prepared to sue the EPA if it tries to weaken Obama-era vehicle efficiency standards, the state’s attorney general said last week. The state also has threatened to move forward on its own if Pruitt succeeds in rolling back fuel efficiency standards. The current federal requirement for 2018 model year vehicles is 38.3 miles per gallon of gasoline. By 2025, the requirement would rise to roughly 51 miles per gallon.

Whitehouse said California’s stronger corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards are a perfect example of cooperative federalism.

“These CAFE standards were negotiated in 2012 by EPA, California, and the auto industry,” he said. “So why did Pruitt decide to roll back those agreed-to CAFE standards? Not because California asked him to. But because industry did. Is it cooperative federalism to ignore the states and do industry’s bidding?”

Aside from threatening California’s waiver, the Trump administration has proposed budgets for the EPA that would result in huge cuts to federal environmental programs as well as reduce funds for states to implement clean air programs. So far, though, Congress has refused to approve the administration’s requested budget cuts for the agency.

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“To Pruitt, cooperative federalism means having EPA do less to reduce pollution and hand over more of the work to the states, all while proposing fewer financial resources to the states to do this work,” Whitehouse said.

“States are encouraged to the take the lead in reducing pollution,” he continued, “so long as they don’t actually try to reduce pollution.”