Trump EPA Pick to Quash 'Heavy Hand' in Environmental Regulation

January 18, 2017 10:19 AM
 
Scott Pruitt

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency is set to outline a vision for scaling back the office’s reach and putting states on the front line as the primary stewards of the air and water. 

For too long, the EPA has "bootstrapped its own powers and tools through rulemaking" that surpasses what lawmakers intended, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt will tell the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday, according to written testimony shared in advance of his confirmation hearing. At the same time, the agency has used "a heavy hand to coerce states into effectuating EPA policies."

"If we truly want to advance and achieve cleaner air and water, the states must be partners and not mere passive instruments of federal will," Pruitt says in the written testimony.

For roughly seven years as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has been on the other end of the EPA’s authority, chafing at -- and challenging -- agency regulations governing water, limiting pollution from power plants and slashing greenhouse gas emissions. He has become one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet picks because Pruitt has dedicated much of his career to battling the very agency he has been tapped to lead. 

He has challenged more than a dozen EPA actions, including President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a regional haze regulation designed to protect the air around national parks and the agency’s conclusion that climate change endangers public health and welfare. That endangerment finding undergirds Obama administration regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Derail Nomination

If confirmed, Pruitt will be able to rewrite or rescind scores of environmental regulations officially -- or simply ease off on their enforcement. Supporters say he would rein in overzealous Obama-era rules and restore much-needed balance to environmental regulation, making good on Trump’s promise to focus the EPA on its core mission of protecting the air and water.

But opponents take a starkly different view. Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, termed Pruitt’s nomination "a full-fledged environmental emergency." Critics are using targeted advertising, a barrage of phone calls to Senate offices and even a singing sit-in to try and derail the nomination by persuading Democrats and Republicans to vote against Pruitt. The League of Conservation Voters took the unusual step last week of warning senators it will score the chamber’s vote on Pruitt, even before his confirmation hearing.

"Pruitt is of special focus because of the complete mismatch between the nominee and the agency he would head," said David Goldston, government affairs director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Senate Democrats are expected to scrutinize Pruitt’s ties to the oil and gas industry, going beyond substantial donations from the sector to his campaigns and associated political action committees. In 2014, the New York Times reported that after Devon Energy donated to Pruitt, he sent a letter drafted by the oil and gas producer to the EPA, with only limited changes.

Pruitt may also get scrutiny for his decision to close an environmental protection division in his Oklahoma office while establishing a new “federalism unit” with the mission of fighting Washington overreach.

Previous Challenges

Democrats also plan to press Pruitt to explain how he would approach issues on which he has challenged the EPA’s authority in the past. It’s not unprecedented for an EPA administrator to have tangled with the same agency prior to leading it. For instance, Gina McCarthy, the current administrator, previously sued the EPA as a Massachusetts state official. However, Pruitt has been far more active, targeting a broader array of EPA rules.

In his prepared testimony, Pruitt casts himself as a champion of cooperation between the states and the EPA. Economic considerations should be factored into the agency’s decisions, and deference should be paid to Congress, he says. "The purpose of regulation is to make things regular, to put the public on clear notice of its obligations, and to do so fairly, without picking winners and losers," he says in the written remarks. Environmental protection and economic growth are not exclusive, he is set to say.

And, in a promise tailor-made for skeptical Democrats on the Senate’s environment committee, Pruitt is set to vow to "lead in a way that our future generations inherit a better and healthier environment."

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