EPA Head Scott Pruitt Says Destruction of the EPA Is "Justified"
February 26, 2017 Ryan J. Reilly / The Huffington Post & Rebecca Leber / Mother Jones
Donald Trump's new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, climate-change-denier Scott Pruitt, recently told a gathering of conservatives that those who want to eliminate the EPA are "justified" in their beliefs, adding: "I think people across this county look at the EPA much as they look at the IRS." Pruitt's statement was seen as a signal of the White House's intent to roll out a series of executive actions gutting the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and a host of Clean Energy programs.
Trump's new EPA boss isn't exactly getting rave reviews.
EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Says Those Who
Want To Kill His Agency Are 'Justified' Ryan J. Reilly / The Huffington Post
"I think people across this county look at the EPA much as they look at the IRS."
-- Scott Pruitt, Trump EPA Appointee
OXON HILL, Md. (February 25, 2017) -- Those who want the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate the department are "justified" in their beliefs, the EPA head under President Donald Trump told a gathering of conservatives on Saturday.
"I think people across this county look at the EPA much as they look at the IRS," said EPA chief Scott Pruitt during an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in a suburb of DC.
He said that those who believed the EPA should be eliminated were "justified" because of the agency's actions during the Obama administration.
Pruitt, who sued the agency he now heads 13 times as attorney general of Oklahoma, was narrowly confirmed by the Senate this month. At CPAC on Saturday, he indicated some announcements would likely be made next week about regulations being rolled back.
"There are going to be some big steps taken to address some of those regulations," Pruitt said.
He said it was difficult to know how much the EPA's budget could be cut back under the Trump administration.
Pruitt, who was opposed by hundreds of former EPA employees, said that the agency did some "very important" work, but added the Obama administration was too focused on climate change. (Pruitt claimed "we don't know" how much of an impact that humans had on climate change.) Republicans don't have anything to apologize about their views on the environment, Pruitt said.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Speaks at CPAC 2017
(February 21, 2017) -- Scott Pruitt may have wanted to ease Environmental Protection Agency staffers' concerns about him Tuesday, but his first remarks as head of the agency hardly mentioned environmental protection at all.
With Donald Trump's EPA transition staff sitting nearby, Pruitt delivered an 11-minute speech, in which he declared, "We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment."
He also quoted famed conservationist John Muir: "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and play in." Pruitt did lament the "toxic environment" in the country, but it was a reference to the political climate -- part of a call for a more civil discourse.
The former Oklahoma attorney general never dwelled on the specifics of his or the White House's agenda for the EPA in the short address, which featured introductory remarks by recent acting administrator Catherine McCabe. Neither McCabe nor Pruitt mentioned the elephant in the room: the EPA's regulations on climate change and Pruitt's role in suing the agency for its climate work.
"I know it's very difficult to capture in one speech the vision and direction of an agency," Pruitt said, while outlining a few of his core guiding principles for the new EPA. He said he wants to limit the scope of the agency's regulatory work and ensure stability for industry.
"Regulations ought to make things regular," Pruitt said. "Regulators exist to give certainty to those they regulate . . . Process matters and we should respect that and focus on that, and try to avoid, do avoid, abuses that occur sometimes."
Pruitt mentioned the need to follow "rule of law" and respect states' roles in enforcing environmental standards. "Congress has provided a very robust, important role of the states," Pruitt said. (Environmentalists, of course, are quick to point out that states are not always eager or financially equipped to protect air, water, or the climate on their own.)
If Pruitt's address was meant to soothe staffers' concerns about their incoming administrator, they may have come up short.
"Pruitt's talk [was] as bad as expected," said a current career EPA staffer of over 20 years, who requested anonymity, following the speech. "Not one word about public health. And talking about the rule of law as if we didn't do EVERYTHING with the realization that it WILL end up in court. It was condescending and hypocritical."
Some former EPA officials shared that view. "Trump's team spent the entire campaign and the last few months railing against EPA's existence, its staff, and its purpose," Liz Purchia, an Obama-era communications staffer at the agency, said in an email: "Accomplishing agency priorities was no easy task when the administrator had staff's back and politicals and careers agreed the majority of the time, so let's see how well Trump's EPA does getting staff to follow them when they feel disrespected.
"These are professionals with years of experience, who have been made to feel like their leader doesn't trust their judgment. The American people are relying on them to defend the agency, protect its environmental statutes and stand up to Trump's team to ensure they uphold science and the law."
Going by the EPA's press releases over the weekend, the agency now views industry and conservatives as its real constituency. No public health groups, environmentalists, or scientists appeared on the laundry list of "stakeholder" congratulations circulated by the EPA after Pruitt was sworn in.
Outside the EPA on Tuesday, an administration official echoed Pruitt's pledge that he will listen to career staff. "He's a very good listener," Don Benton, a White House senior adviser, told reporters after the address. "I don't expect him to be making any quick decisions."
Benton didn't answer specifics on the timing of the presidential actions, saying that the matter is between Pruitt and Trump. But a slow transition based on input from current EPA staff isn't what news reports -- nor Pruitt's own words -- have suggested.
Pruitt didn't provide much clarity Tuesday on what comes first. But in an interview with a conservative Wall Street Journal columnist last week, Pruitt appeared to reverse himself on one key issue.
At his confirmation hearing in January, he said that the EPA's official finding that climate change poses a health danger and is therefore subject to the Clean Air Act "needs to be enforced and respected."
But according to the Journal, Pruitt now wants to conduct a "very careful review" of whether the agency can do anything at all about global warming. His remarks Tuesday appear to have done little to persuade his critics that such a review would be based on sound science. Trump Expected to Sign
Executive Orders Hitting the EPA Rebecca Leber / Mother Jones Magazine
"I read the constitution of the United States, and the word 'environmental protection' does not appear there."
-- H. Sterling Burnett, the Heartland Institute
(February 16, 2017) -- . . . According to Reuters, President Donald Trump plans to sign between two and five environmental executive orders aimed at the EPA and possibly the State Department. The White House is reportedly planning to hold an event at the EPA headquarters, similar to the administration's rollout of its widely condemned travel ban after Defense Secretary James Mattis took office.
While we don't know what, exactly, next week's orders will say, Trump is expected to restrict the agency's regulatory oversight. Based on one administration official's bluster, the actions could "suck the air" out of the room.
Trump may have hinted at the forthcoming orders in his unwieldy press conference on Thursday. "Some very big things are going to be announced next week," he said. (He didn't make clear whether or not he was referring to the EPA.)
Former President Barack Obama's array of climate regulations, including the Clean Power Plan limiting power plant emissions, are certainly high on conservative activists' hit list. So, too, is the landmark Paris climate deal, in which Obama agreed to dramatically cut domestic carbon emissions and provide aide to other countries for clean energy projects and climate adaptation.
The EPA's rule that defines its jurisdiction over wetlands and streams is also a prime target. As attorney general, Pruitt launched lawsuits against a number of these regulations.
"What I would like to see are executive orders on implementing all of President Trump's main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty," said Myron Ebell, who headed Trump's EPA transition and recently returned to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an email to Mother Jones.
H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow at the Heartland Institute, which rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, says Trump could start by revisiting the Obama administration's efforts to calculate a "social cost of carbon" -- and by forbidding its use to determine costs and benefits of government regulations.
He also wants to see broader restrictions on how the EPA calculates costs and benefits. In particular, Burnett hopes Trump will prohibit the agency from considering public health co-benefits of regulations -- for example, attempts by the EPA to argue that limits on CO2 emissions from power plants also reduce emissions of other dangerous pollutants.
Or Trump could take a cue from Republican Attorneys General Patrick Morrisey (W.V.) and Ken Paxton (Texas), who recommended in December that Trump issue a memorandum directing the EPA to "take no further action to enforce or implement" the Clean Power Plan. (The Supreme Court halted implementation of the rule a year ago while both sides fight it out in federal court.)
The holy grail for conservatives would be reversing the agency's so-called "endangerment finding," which states that greenhouse gas emissions harm public health and must therefore be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
The endangerment finding is the legal underpinning for the bulk of Obama's climate policies, including the restrictions on vehicle and power plant emissions. Undoing the finding wouldn't be an easy feat and can't be accomplished by executive order alone.
The endangerment finding isn't an Obama invention; in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gases if it found they harmed public health. Pruitt said during his confirmation hearing that the administration wouldn't revisit the finding, but he also launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against it in 2010. Neither Ebell nor Burnett expects to see Trump tackle the endangerment finding just yet.
Environmentalists are already planning their response. Litigation is certainly an option, but it would of course depend on the details of Trump's executive actions.
Several groups, including EarthJustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have already sued to block Trump's earlier executive order requiring that every new regulation be offset by scrapping two existing regulations. Their case: The administration can't arbitrarily ditch regulations just because the president wants fewer of them on the books.
They could be making a similar case soon enough. "A new president has to deal with the record and evidence and findings," EarthJustice's lead attorney, Patti Goldman, said. "If you take climate and the endangerment finding, that is a scientific finding that is upheld by the court. That finding has legal impacts. If there's a directive along those lines, there will have to be a process."
Of course, anti-EPA Republicans disagree about what is constitutional, which is one reason the agency is in for a tumultuous ride over the next four years. For many conservatives, no EPA at all -- or at least one that has no regulatory powers -- is the best option.
"I read the Constitution of the United States, and the word 'environmental protection' does not appear there," said Heartland's Burnett. "I don't see where it's sanctioned. I think it should go away." A freshman House Republican recently introduced a bill to do just that, but there's no sign it's going to pass anytime soon.
And while Burnett acknowledges that the EPA probably won't be vanishing in the near future, he's been happy with the direction Trump has taken so far. He's pleased with the president's moves to restart the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and he's hopeful that the administration will move toward an EPA with "smaller budgets and a smaller mission, justified by the fact that you'll have fewer regulations.”
Depending on what Trump does . . . that could be just the beginning.
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