Scott Pruitt’s Repeated Attacks on Americans’ Water Resources

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Pruitt’s record overflows with examples of him siding with polluting companies to block or weaken actions to protect water quality. His record lacks any meaningful support for clean water safeguards.

Mr. Pruitt cannot be trusted to protect America’s water resources. His nomination shows disrespect for the 124 million people whose drinking water supplies rely on surface water sources, as well as the 40 million Americans who hunt and fish and who support a $200 billion hunting and fishing economy. Please oppose his confirmation to head EPA.

Attack on EPA Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan

The Chesapeake Bay, one of America’s largest and most productive water resources, suffers from dead zones caused by algae outbreaks, and sediment-laden runoff clouds the water, harming underwater grasses on which young fish, blue crabs, and other aquatic life depend.

After decades of voluntary initiatives failed to protect the Bay watershed, EPA developed a cleanup blueprint under the Clean Water Act that establishes limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution going into the watershed tributaries. The Act requires EPA to take this step if states fail to do so, and also imposes special obligations on EPA with respect to Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration. The “Bay’s health has slowly improved”  as the plan has begun to be implemented, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program (a joint effort of the six watershed states, Washington, DC, EPA, and the Chesapeake Bay Commission).

Industries that would need to reduce pollution to meet the cleanup goals sued EPA, and Attorney General Pruitt joined them in attacking the plan, despite the fact that Oklahoma has no connection to the Chesapeake Bay. The brief Mr. Pruitt joined, however, worried that EPA might also develop a similar cleanup plan for other waterways; it suggested that the Mississippi River watershed “could be next.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected the claims put forward by Mr. Pruitt and polluting industries, and the Supreme Court refused to take their appeal.

Attack on EPA Ability to Stop the Most Egregious Dumping Projects

The Clean Water Act limits the dumping of material in waters that would damage their quality, including solid waste material resulting from activities like coal mining. More specifically, the law provides that EPA can prevent a discharge of dredged or fill material into a water body if the agency determines, in consultation with the Army Corps of Engineers, that harms will occur to “municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas.” EPA uses this authority (commonly referred to as a “veto”) very rarely; since 1972, the agency has issued only 13 such vetoes, reserving it for truly awful proposals.

In 2011, EPA stopped the dumping associated with the enormous Spruce Mine in West Virginia, a mountaintop removal coal mine that would have buried more than six miles of Appalachian streams under waste material, including some of the few remaining high-water-quality streams in the area. EPA found that the mine would degrade downstream water quality and disturb more than 2,200 acres of mountain and forest land, among other things. The coal mine operator sued, alleging that EPA could not act if the Army Corps had previously issued a permit for the discharge. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld EPA’s action, in view of the fact that the law authorizes action “whenever” the agency makes certain findings, and further says that EPA’s action can include “withdrawal” of a site specified to receive dumped material.

Despite EPA’s judicious use of its authority and the devastation that the Spruce Mine would have caused, Mr. Pruitt asked the Supreme Court to reverse the D.C. Circuit decision. The brief he joined supporting the coal company’s request for Supreme Court intervention and misleadingly claimed that the appellate decision put at risk tens of thousands of projects each year. The brief also ignored the plain meaning of the law, on which the D.C. Circuit relied. The Supreme Court refused to take the coal company’s request to review the D.C. Circuit decision.

Attack on EPA/Army Corps Clean Water Rule

Mr. Pruitt has aggressively fought strengthened pollution protections for streams, wetlands and other waters. If that weren’t bad enough, in a public speech, Mr. Pruitt suggested that the Clean Water Act cannot cover water bodies where a boat doesn’t float—a position rejected by the Supreme Court and irreconcilable with a law aimed at protecting water quality.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers adopted a long-awaited rule in the summer of 2015 that clarifies which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act’s pollution prevention and cleanup programs. This rule will better protect the drinking water sources for more than 117 million Americans. It guarantees protection for tributary streams and nearby waters, based on a state-of-the-art review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific publications that collectively show that small, upstream water bodies strongly influence downstream water quality.

During the six months of public comment on the proposed rule, more than 800,000 people across the country submitted supportive comments. Many other people and entities, including small business owners, religious organizations, farmers, scientists, local and state governments, craft brewers and public health organizations strongly support the rule. 

Mr. Pruitt, on the other hand, joined with several industry associations representing some of the nation’s largest water polluters to sue EPA and the Corps, claiming that the rule protects too much of America’s water resources, and largely disregarding the strong scientific basis for protecting the water bodies the rule covers.

Attack on EPA Ability to Protect Appalachian Water Supplies from Coal Mining Pollution

Mr. Pruitt joined an industry attack on procedures EPA and the Army Corps developed to coordinate their review of the water quality impacts of coal mining permits in Appalachia. The litigants also challenged EPA’s identification of scientific benchmarks for determining which coal mines are more likely to harm aquatic life.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the challenges. The court rebuffed the attack on inter-agency coordination procedures, saying that “restricting such consultation and coordination would raise significant constitutional concerns. Under Article II of the Constitution, departments and agencies in the Executive Branch are subordinate to one President and may consult and coordinate to implement the laws passed by Congress.”

Attack on EPA Research on Pollution from Industrial Livestock Operations

Mr. Pruitt fought EPA efforts even to get information on the pollution caused by waste from industrial livestock facilities.

Industrial livestock facilities can generate as much waste as a city, and the waste is typically untreated. “A median-sized beef cattle operation with 3,423 head of beef cattle can produce more than 40,000 tons of manure annually, which is more than the almost 38,900 tons of sanitary waste per year generated by the nearly 57,000 residents of Galveston, Texas,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office analysis. The waste they generate is dangerous—manure contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, as well as organic compounds, heavy metals, antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones. GAO also concluded that “EPA does not have the information that it needs to effectively regulate these operations.”

In a 2012 letter, Mr. Pruitt and other state officials opposed EPA’s conducting even a basic survey of industrial livestock operations, which would have required these facilities to submit minimal information relevant to their waste generation and handling. Mr. Pruitt and the livestock industry succeeded: EPA dropped even the weak survey it proposed. Through his actions, Mr. Pruitt helped keep the public substantially in the dark about these polluting operations.

Attack on Protections for Streams Affected by Coal Mining Water Pollution

Mr. Pruitt urged the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement not to strengthen the standards that mine operators must meet when conducting surface coal mining. OSMRE’s proposal, known as the Stream Protection Rule, would have improved operators’ responsibility for monitoring mines’ impact on streams and avoiding specified harms. Mr. Pruitt joined a letter arguing that the proposed rule was improper because it addressed issues covered by the Clean Water Act—an extremely ironic position in light of his consistent advocacy against many of the Clean Water Act’s protections.

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