Pruitt's EPA Confirmation Hearing Set For Jan. 18

January 16, 2017 10:30 AM
Scott Pruitt

Farmers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) don’t always see eye to eye. Many feel overregulated, particularly with the agency’s embattled “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rules. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg, says Rick Tolman, former CEO of the National Corn Growers Association.

<​p>In particular, Tolman points to the agency’s recent atrazine and glyphosate reviews, which have been criticized as not being completely science-based, allowing for emotion and activist agenda interference.

“Farmers are looking for some relief and certainty about how rules and regulations will be enacted by EPA,” he says. “This would really help them with their day-to-day operations.”

With a new president comes 21 new cabinet appointments, including a new EPA director. Many farmers are wondering how President-elect Trump’s selection of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt will play out. As with several of Trump’s other administration picks, Pruitt has no direct experience as it relates to his new post.

Some consider it ironic Pruitt is in current lawsuits against the very agency he seeks to lead. Currently, he is suing EPA over climate rules and opposes WOTUS.

Pruitt has been described as an “ardent critic” of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a policy aimed at curbing assumed anthropogenic (man-made) climate change by setting national limits on carbon dioxide pollution by power plants. The plan was announced in August 2015, but implementation was stayed in February 2016 by the Supreme Court pending judicial review. Pruitt is among 27 state attorneys general suing to block these rules.

Pruitt also added Oklahoma to the 18 states challenging WOTUS. In 2015, the coalition received an injunction to block the rule, and upon his EPA confirmation, Pruitt will be able to change or repeal it. That has caused concern among some environmental groups.

“Scott Pruitt running the EPA is like the fox guarding the henhouse,” says Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, in an emailed statement reacting to news of Pruitt’s nomination. “Time and again, he has fought to pad the profits of big polluters at the expense of public health.”

Many farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), are optimistic about the nomination.

“[Pruitt] is welcome news to America’s farmers and ranchers—in fact, to all who are threatened by EPA’s regulatory overreach—and should help provide a new degree of fairness for U.S. agriculture,” says Zippy Duvall, AFBF president and Georgia farmer.

At the same time, Duvall says agriculture is a profession based on a solid ethic of conservation and expects Pruitt to hold high this priority.

“[Conservation] helps guide everything we do, and we expect Pruitt will understand that in regulatory matters dealing with agriculture and the environment,” Duvall says.

Farmers might be less enthusiastic about Pruitt’s past criticisms of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS)—he has referred to the program as “unworkable” in the past. 

Even so, the president-elect has gone on record supporting RFS during his campaign, which might apply pressure for Pruitt to fall in line. Congress might help with this push, as well, because Iowa senator Chuck Grassley has publicly pledged to “grill” Pruitt on ethanol.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, meanwhile, relayed to reporters in December that Trump indicated Pruitt is “going to be for ethanol.” 

The Pruitt pick might ultimately be just another sign the Trump administration will require some “wait and see” patience.

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