Week 5: A Climate Denier Is Now in Charge of the EPA

Meet Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s cheerless new leader.

February 24, 2017

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

Polluters hail Pruitt.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Scott Pruitt’s confirmation a week ago with fanfare—really, really strange fanfare. The agency’s press release featured gleeful quotes from some of the worst polluters in America: the National Mining Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, among others. Here’s a rundown on some of Pruitt’s biggest fans.

From left: Pigs inside a hog barn in Iowa; swine and turkey waste from a farm in North Carolina

Darcy Maulsby/iStock

Pork producers are responsible for some of the most gruesome acts of pollution in modern history. For instance, North Carolina’s hog farms generate more fecal matter than the people of California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and North Dakota combined. Much of that waste is dumped into massive pits or sprayed untreated onto crops, and some of it carries infectious pathogens. In 2012, a waste spill from an 8,000-head hog confinement operation in Illinois contaminated 20 miles of Beaver Creek, killing nearly 150,000 fish.

Meanwhile, the National Mining Association spends much of its time and (dirty) energy fighting restrictions on carbon pollution. The NMA has argued that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan would nearly double the cost of electricity—an indefensible claim that the Washington Post gave four Pinocchios and called “bogus.” The organization has been so vocal in its opposition to any and all efforts to combat climate change that Volvo, a former NMA member, left the group because of its “quite crazy” lobbying.

Beef producers are also eager to fight climate change policies, fearing that regulators might eventually realize their industry poses environmental threats arguably on par with those of fossil fuels. Some studies suggest giving up beef would shrink your carbon footprint more than giving up driving.

These organizations would have you believe that their environmental misdeeds are the result of overregulation—that somehow excessive regulation causes pork producers to dump thousands of gallons of pig feces into our streams. In the EPA’s bizarro press release, the National Pork Producers Council, for example, celebrates Pruitt’s aversion to “piling regulations on” their members. To borrow a slightly altered phrase from Donald Trump, how stupid do they think we are?

Americans should know more about the origins of one of history’s strangest press releases in the coming months. NRDC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to uncover the communications and ties between Pruitt’s EPA and the industries the agency is supposed to be regulating. Maybe we’ll also learn why the press release didn’t contain quotes from environmentalists or scientists. Oh, wait, we already know why.           

E-mails . . .

After more than two years of stalling, the office of the Oklahoma attorney general finally got around to releasing Pruitt’s e-mails concerning his ties with the fossil fuel industry―just days after his confirmation. What an incredible coincidence. It’s almost as if Pruitt didn’t want senators to see his e-mails before casting their votes.

A rally to stop the appointment of Scott Pruitt as EPA head, February 2017

Victoria Pickering/Flickr

The e-mails confirmed what we already knew. As Oklahoma attorney general, a job in which Pruitt was supposed to be representing the interests of the people of his state, he instead represented the interests of oil and gas companies. So much so that the companies referred to Pruitt and his allies as “fossil energy AGs.”

The correspondence also revealed secret meetings about how to fight environmental regulations and how energy companies drafted letters and passed them to Pruitt’s office in the hope that he would sign and send them to federal authorities as his own. Energy companies also gave him talking points and encouraged him to “cut and paste.” Pruitt sometimes complied with these requests, which is no shock, considering they came from companies that donated to the Pruitt-led Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). Devon Energy, for example, donated $125,000 to RAGA two days before Pruitt wrote to the EPA in protest of a proposed fracking rule.

Meet your condescending and hypocritical leader.

Pruitt gave his first address to the worried employees of the EPA on Tuesday. How did it go? Not surprisingly, energy lobbyists thought it went well (“exactly right,” said Frank Maisano of Bracewell, a law firm that represents the fossil fuel industry), but actual EPA employees were . . . less impressed. Pruitt told his charges that the agency could be both pro-energy and pro-environment, but he never mentioned climate change. (He never brought up public health, either.) A career staffer told Mother Jones the speech was “condescending and hypocritical.”

On one level, I have deep sympathies for the EPA staff. They’ve spent more than 40 years protecting public health, and their new boss wants to undo it all. On the other hand, imagine how gratifying it is to be able to slate your boss in national magazines with total anonymity.

Kentuckians persisted.

In non-Pruitt news, legislators returned to their home districts over the past few days, and several Republicans got an earful from their constituents. Among them was Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has spent years falsely blaming the decline of the coal industry on what he calls President Obama’s “war on coal.” In fact, the overwhelming majority of the industry’s job losses result from coal’s noncompetitiveness with other energy sources like natural gas, a situation that is unlikely to change.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking in Washington, D.C.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Even McConnell’s constituents have stopped buying his “war on coal” claims. A woman at a McConnell event on Tuesday demanded to know how the senator would bring back coal jobs in the face of cheaper competition. She said, “If you can answer that, I will sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren.” Burn.

As it happened, McConnell couldn’t answer that. His bumbling response was so vague that another attendee implored him to “answer the question” amid general audience unrest. Maybe McConnell is the one who should sit down and, well, you know.

Love it or list it.

President Trump signed an executive order today directing federal agencies to form “regulatory reform” task forces, which will review their agency’s rules and recommend whether to keep, repeal, or change them.

A few hours earlier, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (and apparently while in a fugue state), Trump said, “I want regulation. I want to protect our environment.”

Someone really ought to tell the president that’s exactly what EPA regulations have been doing all these years. If only there were a social media platform we could use to contact him directly…

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.

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