Week 13: Pruitt Doesn’t Trust His EPA Staff to Work Hard Against Clean Water Protections

Because why would they?

April 21, 2017

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.


Let’s not make a deal.

Last week, the G7 meeting in Rome ended in discord, as some of the world’s leading economies failed to agree on a statement—not an actual course of action, mind you, but just a collection of bland words on paper—about the way forward on climate change. This week, Politico exposed the role the United States played in scuttling the agreement.

According to drafts, the United States insisted on language indicating that fossil fuels “including coal and natural gas will remain part of the global energy mix for the foreseeable future.” The other G7 countries objected, probably because they had already agreed to phase out coal by the end of the century. Is the end of the century foreseeable? I suppose it’s a matter of interpretation, but many of the children born today will still be alive well into the next century. (Especially in G7 member Japan, where the average life expectancy is already 83 years; because mortality patterns are likely to change in the future, children born today will probably live longer than 83 years…but I digress.)

U.S. negotiators also attempted to characterize fossil fuels and nuclear as “clean, reliable, and affordable energy.” In fact, fossil fuels are not clean, and nuclear is neither affordable nor clean. To put the cherry on top of this coal-flavored cake, Trump’s negotiating team refused to provide assurances that the United States would remain in the Paris climate agreement.

So, to recap, our country wanted to undermine G7 progress on clean energy by reclassifying dirty energy as clean energy, then tried to get its partner countries to promise to keep using coal, and finally refused to meet them halfway by agreeing to stay in the Paris climate agreement. Can you believe the rest of the G7 wouldn’t take that deal?

We’ll always have Paris?

Speaking of the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration kept its “Will we or won’t we?” saga going for yet another week. There was supposed to be a showdown meeting on Tuesday, where Paris advocates like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump were going to do rhetorical battle with EPA Administrator (and science denier) Scott Pruitt and prince of darkness Stephen Bannon. But the meeting was postponed at the last minute. The official reason for the delay was that many of the gladiators were traveling. But it’s equally likely that no one really wants to discuss the issue, because climate change deniers adore endless debate without ever coming to a conclusion. I guess the meeting about the long-term fate of our civilization will have to wait until the president takes care of more important things, like meeting some of the New England Patriots.


Pruitt wants to outsource clean water.

Scott Pruitt has a problem—most of his employees at the EPA hate him and everything he stands for. 

Now imagine Pruitt walking into a cubicle farm of employees, flanked by a couple of burly bodyguards, to ask his employees to write a rationale to repeal the Clean Water Rule—a rule that these very same employees labored for five years to enact—and then to write a replacement rule that would not protect U.S. rivers and streams. Do you believe that those employees would do a good job? A good enough job to win over the judge who will review the new rule in the inevitable legal challenge?

Luckily for Pruitt, some of his old pals in industry have a solution: outsourcing. According to reports, industry groups want Pruitt to ask outside attorneys to rewrite an industry-friendlier version of the Clean Water Rule. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the highest-ranking Democrat in EPA oversight, expressed “incredulity” at the move, which would be largely unprecedented and others described as “absolutely, wildly unethical” . . . so it’s exactly the kind of thing the Trump administration would do.

Wait . . .

If I had to sum up Trump’s presidency in one word—a word that is not an obscenity—I would say unprepared. One manifestation of Trump’s unpreparedness is that his lawyers are constantly asking courts to postpone their review of regulations. The administration asked the Supreme Court to delay its review of the Clean Power Plan as well as its review of the Clean Water Rule, and it asked a federal judge to delay review of the controversial travel ban. And now Trump’s lawyers want to delay oral arguments in the review of a rule that regulates the emissions of toxic air pollutants from power plants. Three months into the administration, Trump’s attorneys say they still have not had a chance to establish a viewpoint on the rule.

Ian Hooton/Science Photo Library

To help them decide, I want to pass along some information. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are already saving 11,000 lives every year. On the average day, the rule prevents 356 asthma attacks in America, with children reaping most of the benefit. The rule keeps thousands of people out of the emergency room and prevents 850,000 lost work days every year.

So think about that, Trump attorneys, as you mull over whether or not you want to defend the mercury rule in court. When you get around to it, of course.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

onEarth Story

For starters: It would endanger the environment, imperil water systems and other public assets . . . and then make states pay extra for it all

onEarth Story

The EPA plans to rescind the Clean Water Rule, and the Senate gives Scott Pruitt a tongue-lashing.

onEarth Story

Muzzling scientists, scrubbing websites, attacking journalists: all in a shameful day’s work for our bought-and-paid-for EPA administrator. It’s time to stop him.

onEarth Story

To what lengths will Scott Pruitt go to undo the good work being done by his agency’s scientists, researchers, and staff?

onEarth Story

Plus, Pruitt is now under 12 separate investigations.

Latest News

Here’s why this environmental and public health win is so important.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.