Can the EPA become a force for genuine environment protection and enhancement without systemic change?
Bob Sheak, May 4, 2018
Trump is advancing policies that serve to consolidate the powerful right-wing coalition of which he is the accommodating – and self-promoting – public leader.
One of Trump’s most prominent and disturbing policies is reflected in the administration’s energy policy, but it should be noted that his initiatives and appointments related to energy are just one part of the administration’s – and Republican Party’s – wholesale deregulation goal. I will focus on the environment and the EPA.
The right-wing regulatory policy is aimed at weakening government enforcement of environmental laws, by appointing agency administrators who will advance this goal, and by vigorously pursuing deregulation to eliminate or weaken those environmental policies and practices that put limitations on corporate profit-seeking. Contrary to Trump, we want and need strong regulatory agencies that protect citizens, consumers, and the environment from the excesses built into our corporate-dominated capitalist system. Such agencies would ideally initiate and enact plans and rules, based on solid scientific research, and enforce them. Effective regulatory agencies are obviously those that encourage at all levels of government environmental protection, reclamation, and enhancement not only through rule-making and enforcement but also through grants and expert assistance.
There is conflicting evidence over how the EPA has done prior to the Trump administration.
The editors of the Environmental Magazine remind us of the origin, purposes, and early accomplishments of the EPA (March 15, 2017, http://www.spiritofchange.org/green-living-environment/What-Good-Has-The-EPA-Done-For-The-Environment).
“the EPA was created via Executive Order by Republican President Richard Nixon in December 1970 in response to rising concerns about pollution in an increasingly industrialized United States.” Its purpose, then and now, is to ensure that all Americans are protected from significant risks to their health and the environment where they live, learn and work. To accomplish this, the EPA develops and enforces environmental regulations based on laws passed by Congress; monitors environmental quality across the country; funds states, non-profits and educational institutions to address local and regional problems; and educates the public about how to avoid and mitigate environmental risks. Laws implemented and enforced by the EPA to protect our land, air and water save hundreds of thousands of Americans from premature death every year and keep our ecosystems healthy in the face of innumerable threats.
“The EPA’s very first major accomplishment back in the early 1970s was setting standards on common air pollutants plaguing urbanized and industrial areas across the U.S. Other highlights from the EPA’s first decade include: banning the pesticide DDT and requiring extensive environmental reviews of all pesticides; establishing the first fuel economy standards for cars and trucks on American roads; overseeing the phase-out of PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons and leaded gasoline; and setting nationwide benchmarks for drinking water quality.”
Scientific American offers a positive view of the EPA in an article titled “Environmental Enforcer: How Effective Has the EPA Been in Its First 40 years,” or through 2010 (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-epa-first-40-years). The answer given by the editors is that the agency “has been very effective.” It is the “first dedicated national environmental agency of its kind” in the world, and has been “instrumental in setting policy priorities and writing and enforcing a wide range of laws that have literally changed the fact of the Earth for the better.” They refer to a study by the Aspen Institute and compiled by a group of more than 20 environmental leaders unveiling a list of “10 ways the U.S .Environmental Protection Agency has strengthened America over the past 40 years.” Here’s what they say.
“…banning the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which was decimating bald eagles and other birds and threatening public health; achieving significant reductions in Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen emissions that were polluting water sources via acid rain; changing public perceptions of waste, leading to innovations that make use of waste for energy creation and making new products; getting lead out of gasoline; classifying secondhand smoke as a known cause of cancer, leading to smoking bans indoor public places; regulating toxic chemicals and encouraging the development of more benign chemicals; establishing a national commitment to restore and maintain the safety of fresh water, via the Clean Water Act; promoting equitable environmental protection for minority and low-income citizens; and increasing public information and communities’ ‘right to know’ what chemicals and/or pollutants they may be exposed to in their daily lives.”
There is also recent evidence that the EPA has had beneficial impacts on protecting people from industry pollution. David Cay Johnston points to the following evidence in his book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America.
“For the three decades from 1990 to 2020, the EPA calculated, the direct costs of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments will come to $380 billion. The benefits, depending on assumptions, range between $1 trillion and $35 trillion. The Central estimate was $12 trillion” (p. 118).
Johnston adds: “That is a return of $35 of benefits for each dollar spent on compliance, using the middle estimate.” He further points out that this research does not count the reduced “asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, and premature death caused by pollution.”
There is other evidence that reveals that the EPA has colluded with manufacturers in establishing what the safe limits of various chemicals and pollutants are and doing so in a way that set the limits too low. The Poison Papers, “a trove of rediscovered and newly digitized chemical industry and regulatory agency documents stretching back to the 1920s,” according to an outline of the papers published on the website EcoWatch (https://www.ecowatch.com/the-poison-papers-2465841261.html).
The papers were released to the public in July 2017. The research, done by the Bioscience Research Project and the Center for Media and Democracy, is based on “a compilation of more than 20,000 documents obtained from federal agencies and chemical manufacturers.” The analysis of the papers shows that regulators typically went along with the demands of industry, “setting up secret committees, deceiving the media and the public, and covering up evidence of human exposure and human harm. These secret activities extended and increased human exposure to chemicals they knew to be toxic.”
Jonathan Latham, Ph.D., director of the Poison Papers project, is interviewed on The Real News, an outstanding news and opinion program you can find on the internet (May 3, 2018). Let me quote his opening statements.
“What they show is that, either actively or implicitly, that regulatory agencies, but most especially the EPA, have been colluding with the manufacturers and the organizations that they’re supposed to regulated in all kinds of different ways. So this is for the approval of new products, this is for the enforcement of all products, this is for the suppression of data, showing evidence of harm. Denying the public this information that they need to protect themselves, an opportunity to find our more about products, for example.”
There are also many books that criticize the EPA for weak regulatory assessments and enforcement and how the agency has been too willing to accommodate corporate interests in industries being regulated. For example, Philip Shabecoff and Alice Shabecoff published the book Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children in 2009, in which they document that there has been “a steep increase of a variety of serious chronic childhood illness over the past half century.” They continue: “These include childhood cancer, asthma, birth defects, and a range of neurological problems.” These illnesses have been:
“paralleled by an increase in the volume and range of toxic substances into the environment that we perceive as astonishing in magnitude. These substances pervade our habitat – our air, our water, our soil, our homes, our schools, and our places of work. They not only come from toxic waste sites, industrial sites, power plant smokestacks, automobile tailpipes, and pesticide-sprayed field, but can also lurk in our food and many (if not most) of our commonplace produces as cleaning products, cosmetics, plastic bottles, and clothing…. There is not a human on earth who is not exposed to toxic pollution. But it is the children who are most vulnerable” (p. xii).
Author David Kirby cites the EPA as a source that identifies environmental problems that are vast in their effects. In his book, Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment (2010), Kirby writes that “the EPA said farming operations of all types had contaminated some fifteen hundred miles of state rivers, more than twice the amount polluted by manufacturing and city sewage plants combined” (p. 55). But Kirby then points out that the EPA did little, writing that “[o]n January 21, 2005, the EPA announced an unprecedented programs that granted amnesty to large CAFO [Confined Animal Feeding Operations] that violated the federal Clean Air Act. In return, the offenders would participate in a voluntary program of monitoring air emissions at some, but not all, of the participating farms” (p. 300).
The take-away and what’s to come
The EPA has done some good but not enough. The roots of the problem are systemic, in the sway of profit-based corporate power, political stalemate and increasingly right-wing government, an economy that knows no limits, and a culture in which the good life is often measured by what people can consume. In this context, it is surprising that the EPA has accomplished as much as it has. What’s clear now is that under the Trump regime environmental regulation is likely to see an EPA starved of resources and under the leadership of administrators who don’t believe in and want to sabotage regulation. David Cay Johnston quotes Betsy Southerland, the EPA administrator who preceded Scott Pruitt, who said we can expect there will “increased public health and safety risks and a degraded environment.”
Michael Grunwald pens an article for Politico, the main point of which is that the EPA rules and rule-making processes are so complex and take so much time to be completed that it is unlikely that Trump’s administration or the EPA administrator are likely to do much harm (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/04/07/scott-pruitt-epa-accomplishments-rollback-217834). The thrust of this article is captured in this quote.
“…so far he’s [Pruitt] only managed to delay a few rules that hadn’t yet taken effect. His supporters, critics and boss have all promoted the perception that he’s repealed Obama’s legacy and shredded American environmental rulebook – and not one has promoted that perception more energetically that Pruitt, who frequently sued Obama’s EPA when he Oklahoma’s attorney general. Nevertheless, the perception is wrong.
“Pruitt’s problem is that major federal regulations are extremely difficult and time-consuming to enact, and just as difficult and time-consuming to reverse. The rulemaking process can take years of technical and administrative work that Pruitt and his team have not yet had time to do.”
Grunwald has not read the Poison Papers. The massive environmental problems that afflict the United States do not begin with the Trump administration. And the bad news keeps coming. Michelle Chen reports on in-depth evidence from the recently published study by the American Lung Association titled “State of the Air.” The central point is that 133.9 million Americans live in cities that exceed acceptable levels of smog, pathogens, and toxins. You can find Chen’s report at: https://thenation.com/article/133-9-million-americans-live-in-areas-with-unhealthy-levels-of-air-pollution. Whatever good work the EPA has been doing is being eclipsed by the amount of pollutants that are being produced by the economy, from the fossil-fuel based transportation system, the electrical power systems, the wildfires related to climate change, and other sources.
Trump’s Energy Policy
This is a policy that wants to foster the maximum extraction, processing, distribution and use of oil, gas, and coal, with absolutely no concern about the environmental or health consequences. Trump is doing his part in implementing this lethal policy ideologically by denying the indisputably- scientifically-documented reality of global warming and the huge role played by fossil fuel emissions in this existentially-threatening climate-altering process. In the Trump, right-wing world, verifiable and authoritative evidence has no meaning or can be cavalierly dismissed if it interferes with investment and profits. This way of thinking resonates well with the network of billionaires headed by the Koch brothers, the big fossil fuel corporations, the American Petroleum Institute, and other big Republican donors. Then there are tens of millions of Americans among Trump’s core supporters, most of whom will believe virtually anything the leader says. They don’t salute with a straight arm him yet, but they wear his hats and other paraphernalia and shout his praises at the rallies of adoration that his compliant staff organize to boost the leader’s spirits. Indeed, why should they not cheer this president who tells them he is the greatest, a self-proclaimed “stable genius,” and one who will offer them security against their worst fears.
Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement
Beyond ideology, Trump has taken specific steps to buttress the fossil-fuel based energy systems. He withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Accord or Agreement on June 1, 2017(https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-president-trump-paris-climate). The Paris agreement was the world’s first comprehensive international climate agreement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Agreement). By May 2018, despite Trump’s action, government officials of over190 countries had signed the agreement, the aim of which was to have each government agree to reduce their emissions enough so that collectively the global temperature will not rise about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius). The agreement rests on the willingness of countries to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and for the “rich” countries to pony up extra funds to support the development of sustainable energy systems in poor countries. It is not an ideal agreement. There are concerns that the agreement does not go far to keep temperatures from rising about 3.6 degrees and there is no binding enforcement mechanism. But it is an agreement that provides the cooperative framework on which to build.
In his statement withdrawing from the agreement, Trump maintained that it would cost Americans jobs, require cuts in the production of paper, cement, iron and steel, oil, and coal, causing astronomical economic upheavals, and give China unfair advantages. He also said he would do better and talked about introducing a new deal for the world’s nations to consider sometime in the future. In the meantime, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere at levels the earth has not experienced for many thousands of years. And time is running out before the increasingly destructive effects of anthropogenic climate change overwhelm humanity and threaten the very survival of the human species.
The Climate Crisis grows
Julia Conley reviews some of the evidence on climate change and its effects in an article for Common Dreams, citing authoritative sources (http://commondreams.org/news/2018/01/18/trump-denies-science-terrifying-trend-continues-2017-among-hottest-years-ever). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA report that, as she summarizes, “17 of the 18 hottest years since preindustrial times have occurred since 2001.” This is a reference to the average global temperature. The last four years have been the hottest four on record. Conley adds: “In 2017, as scientists observed wildfires throughout California; an Atlantic hurricane season that saw three major storms sweep through the Caribbean and the southern U.S., killing an untold number of people and causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damage; and the extent of sea ice at both the North and South Poles reaching a record low due to melting after a warm 2017 winter.”
Obama’s Clean Power Plan
But there is a lot more going on in the Trump administration than withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. Trump and his administration have moved to undermine existing environmental laws opposed by his major corporate supporters in the fossil-fuel and auto industries and the right-wing coalition generally. In May 2017, Trump issued an executive order on climate policies, the main target of which was the EPA’s Clean Power Plan which had only been finalized by the Obama White House in August 2016. Scott K. Johnson of Arstechnica provides some useful background. “The goal of the Clean Power Plan was to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030” (https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/03/trumps-executive-order-on-climate-change-finally-drops). The most important rule in the plan included emission-reduction targets for each state to meet. The states were to decide how to reach their respective targets, though some or many coal-burning plants would not have been able to comply and would had to have closed (as many are anyway). Some states would have been affected more than others.
With the seeming termination of the Clean Power rule, Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, was given the job of taking the plan back to the drawing board, with no time-table. In the meantime, some of the older-coal burning power plants will continue operating. Johnson also points out that there are provisions in Trump’ executive order that will open up additional opportunities generally for fossil fuel mining on federal land and specifically for easing restrictions on fracking for oil and gas on federal land. For environmentalists, the bad news piles up.Johnson writes: “the federal government is directed to stop using EPA-developed ‘social cost of carbon’ calculations to determine the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions when making policy decisions,” and “to stop considering climate change when reviewing infrastructure projects,” ignoring “things like sea level rise and increasing flash flooding.” There is, though, one remaining obstacle that Trump’s EPA faces, as Johnson points out.
“Some form of regulation is still required because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA was legally obligated to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, so long as the agency determined that greenhouse gas emissions threatened ‘public health and welfare.’ In 2009, the Agency concluded they did – a key decision know as ‘endangerment finding.’ As a result, the EPA is now legally required to put out some sort of regulation like the Clean Power Plan.”
Given the unqualified commitment of the Trump administration to deregulation, I am inclined to think that any replacement regulation will do little to curtail emissions from coal, oil, and gas production.
Scott Pruitt’s EPA – something to be whittled down
Now there’s a lot more to say about Trump’s energy policy. David Cay Johnson makes this relevant point about Trump’s attitude toward the EPA, that is, the EPA is “an agency Trump has promised he would smash into ‘tidbits” (It’s Even Worse Than You Think, p. 115). Trump’s policy is encapsulated in his choice of Scott Pruitt to run the EPA. Pruitt agrees with Trump that fossil-fuel extraction and production should be maximized and that any government regulations that stand in the way of the fossil-fuel-based electrical power and a gasoline-dependent transportation system should be changed, side-stepped, or ignored. In line with this way of thinking, it is widely reported that Pruitt discourages and penalizes agency experts and staff for referring to global warming in their reports. This may help to explain why hundreds of EPA employees are leaving the agency (https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/22/epa-trump-administration-new-york-times/index.html). Pruitt’s EPA has also removed climate change information from its website. Reporting for CNN on April 29, 2018, Rene Marsh writes: “The EPA removed most climate change information from its website Friday, saying in a press release that language on the website is being updated to ‘reflect the approach of the new leadership’” (https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/29/politics/epa-climate-change-website/index.html).
Pruitt: CO2 emissions may not be a bad thing
Pruitt himself has denied the reality of global warming, or human-induced disruptive climate change (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/09/epa-scott-pruitt-carbon-dioxide-glob). Recently, however, he has acknowledged that carbon dioxide emissions are having an impact on the environment but that it “may not be a bad thing,” as reported by Nick Visser for the Huffington Post on February 7, 2018 (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/scott-pruitt-global-warming-good_us_5a7ba9bce4044b3821922dc). Here is some of what Visser reports:
“Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, alluded earlier this week that global warming may be beneficial to humans, once again questioning the world’s leading scientists who have declared the phenomenon one of the greatest known threats to humanity.
‘In an interview that aired Tuesday on KSNV, a Nevada television station, Pruitt questioned how accurately scientists could predict the planet’s ideal temperature in 2100, or even this year, and said humans had “flourished” in times of past warmth.
“We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends,” Pruitt said during the interview. “I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018?”
He continued: “That’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”
The view is a new iteration of Pruitt’s antagonism toward established climate science, but it flies in the face of such research all the same. Scientists have long held a near-unanimous consensus that the climate is changing and that humans are the primary cause. World leaders and global organizations have declared the phenomenon one of the most pressing threats to humanity and have warned that unless the world works to halt greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, a host of climate-related effects could devastate the world.
The reaction of scientists to Pruitt’s claim about CO2 emissions being “not so bad” is reported by John Bacon in a USA Today article (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/02/08/epa-chief-scott-pruitt-global-warming-may-good-thing/318850002).
Bacon quotes the responses of three scientists to Pruitt’s statement. Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Penn State, pointed out: “As the evidence becomes ever more compelling that climate change is real and human caused, the forces of denial turn to other specious argument, like ‘it will be good for us.'” Stanford environment professor Chris Field, “who oversaw a United Nations and World Meteorological Organization scientific report on climate change,” is quoted as follows: “thousands of studies document that a warming planet causes a host of problems, not just from high temperatures but also from heat waves, higher seas, heavier downpours, and more frequent destructive hurricanes and wildfires.” And Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University,” told Field that “the impact of global warming on health and the sustainability of the food supply are ‘not good.” While there are some locations where warming has a benefit, overall “things are worse.”
Making the Obama administrations fuel-efficiency standards disappear
Pruitt appears to shrug off criticisms and is relentless in his efforts to ignore global warming/climate change. This attitude is further reflected in the EPA’s decision to undo the historic fuel-efficiency standards instituted by the Obama administration in August 2012. What are these standards? A White House press release announcing the standard claimed that the “groundbreaking standards…will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025” (https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2012/08/28/obama-administratin-finalizes-historic-545-mpg-fuel-efficiency-standard).
The new standards were said to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump, and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.” The administration also expected that the new standards would encourage manufacturers to make investments in “clean, innovative technologies.” California was subsequently given a waiver to institute even higher standards, if they chose to. All this is good. Now, however, Pruitt’s EPA has terminated the standards. Why? It reflects so brazenly the Trump administrations goals of wholesale deregulation, climate-change denial (more or less), and the unqualified commitment of Trump and his right-wing allies to eliminate all obstacles to the profit visions of the fossil-fuel corporations, big auto makers, and their powerful corporate and political allies.
Pruitt made the announcement terminating the fuel-efficiency standards on April 3, 2018, as reported by Arlette Saenz for ABC News (http://abcnews.com/Politics/epa-administrator-scott-pruitt-announces-rollback-obama-era/story?id=54202466). Here’s the gist of her report.
“’Those standards are inappropriate and should be revised,’ Pruitt said at the EPA. The change in policy relaxes fuel efficiency and emissions standards for vehicles manufactured between 2022 and 2025. Pruitt did not outline any new standards, saying they are still under evaluation.”
This decision by Pruitt for the right-wing to end and replace (no specified date) the Obama administration’s fuel-efficiency standards may be the most potentially climate-damaging move by Pruitt’s EPA so far, according to Marianne Lavelle and John H. Cushman Jr of Inside Climate News (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/02042018/climate-change-car-fuel-efficiency-cafe-standard-epa-pruitt-auto-pollution-gas-mileage-california-global-warming).
The standards seem to have had some success initially. Lavelle and Cushman point out that the auto industry “outperformed the federal vehicle standards until last year. But then in 2017 “[c]arbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector…reached their highest level since the 2008 economic downturn.” Now emissions are rising as the auto industry sells an increasing number of SUVs and light trucks, as sales go up, and as people drive more miles. Lavelle and Cushman write that such emissions now account for 37 percent of U.S. emissions from energy consumption, citing as their source the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Vehicle emissions now exceeds those from the electric power sector. There is concern also that, in the absence of any reasonable fuel-efficiency standards, the auto corporations will curtail their moves toward manufacturing electric cars.
The seriousness of Pruitt’s decision to abandon the fuel-efficiency standards of the Obama administration led to an enormous outcry. Jessica Corbett’s headline captures it: “States Representing 44% of US Population Sue Trump’s EPA for Blocking Auto Emissions Standards” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/05/01/states-representing-44-us-population-sue-trumps-epa-blocking-auto-emissions). Here is some of what she reports.
“A coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia is suing the Trump administration for blocking greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles that aimed to reduce air pollution and curb U.S. drivers’ contributions to the global climate crisis.
“In what critics called an “indefensible and frankly embarrassing decision,” last month Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt caved to automobile industry lobbyists’ demands and announced that his agency is drafting relaxed manufacturing rules for vehicles made between 2022 and 2025.
“’Enough is enough,’ California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday. ‘The evidence is irrefutable: today’s clean car standards are achievable, science-based, and a boon for hardworking American families. But the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt refuse to do their job and enforce these standards.’
“Becerra, California Gov. Jerry Brown, and the California Air Resources Board are leading the coalition that filed suit in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. According to a statement released by Becerra’s office, the lawsuit alleges that Trump’s EPA “acted arbitrarily and capriciously, failed to follow its own regulations, and violated the Clean Air Act” when rolling back the regulations.
“’This coalition represents approximately 43 percent of the new car sales market nationally and 44 percent of the U.S. population,’ the statement noted. States attorneys general or agencies from Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia have signed on to lawsuit (pdf).”
It remains to be seen whether even such massively organized opposition can effectively challenge Pruitt’s decision.
What is Scott Pruitt’s role really all about?
There is something bigger involved in Pruitt’s decisions. Aside from seemingly irrational policies and administrative practices, Scott Pruitt is playing a role in a larger political drama orchestrated by Trump and his right-wing allies. Bear in mind, they are committed to strengthening a free-wheeling version of corporate-dominated capitalism that is oriented to profits, wherever, however, and whatever. They want a political-economic system that is highly deregulated and privatized, low federal taxes, corporate-friendly in every way, highly militarized, and hawkish on foreign policy. The administration disregards concepts of the public interest, the common good, or environmental protection and renewal. And it is particularly punitive toward those with low-incomes who need public assistance. I have discussed these issues in previous posts.
Here’s the answer. The appointment of Pruitt as EPA administrator is an example of how Trump choses ideologically compatible people to important policymaking positions in his administration, paying little attention to their competence or character. Trump wants loyalty and compliance and opportunities thus to demonstrate his own superiority and power to his principal constituencies, the mega-corporations and the rich. There is little attention paid to Pruitt’s incompetence, his authoritarian administrative approach, and his far-right ideological bent. What matters? Pruitt’s ability to deliver a more depleted and ineffective EPA than he started with. This remains to be seen. However, Pruitt may have gone too far in some ways, that is, in his willingness to use his lofty position to personally benefit himself and his friends and to be caught at it. This may be his ultimate undoing. We can be sure, there are plenty of like-minded replacements waiting in the wings. In the final analysis, we need, though the chances are not great, a government in Washington D.C. that is committed to environmental protection, reclamation, and enhancement. That requires elected officials who are progressive and committed to truly radical institutional change.
Pruitt’s a committed right-wing ideologue and a bit of an opportunist
When Pruitt first introduced himself to EPA by video over the agency’s computer network, he “revealed his one-sided approach to EPA’s mandate,” according to David Cay Johnston.
“His only stated concerns were those of industries EPA regulates.”
“Pruitt did not talk about why environmental regulations exist: to protect human health and safety, to make sure children are not drinking water laced with lead as happened in Flint, Michigan; to minimize the damage of industrial processes, such as ensuring that fumes from electric power plant smokestacks are not so toxic that they turn the rain falling on northeastern forests acid, killing trees and trout; to make sure that a century of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire because of chemical dumping remains history; to ensure that fish caught in the Great Lakes and the Hudson River and the coastal seas are not laced with man-made chemicals that cause cancer in humans how eat the fish; to protect the wildlife and plant life that create enormous amounts of economic value for mankind all on their own” (It’s Even Worse Than You Think, p. 116).
His previous record of support for and close ties to fossil-fuel interests
John Nichols provides the following information on Pruitt’s past record as Oklahoma’s attorney general in his book Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to The Most Dangerous People in America.
“As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt used template language provided by lobbyists to help advance the agendas of those lobbyists. According to the watchdog group[Center for Media and Democracy]: ‘The oil and gas lobby group American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) coordinated opposition in 2012 to both the Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS) and ozone limits with Pruitt’s office. While AFPM was making its own case against the RFS with the American Petroleum Institute, it provided Pruitt with a template language for an Oklahoma petition, noting ‘this argument is more credible coming from the state. Later that year, Pruitt did file opposition to both the RFS and ozone limits.”
“‘In a groundbreaking New York Times Pulitzer-winning series in 2014, Eric Lipton exposed the close relationship between Devon Energy and Scott Pruitt, and highlighted examples where Devon Energy drafted letters that were sent by Pruitt under his own name….In one email, Devon Energy helped draft language that was later sent by Pruitt to the EPA about the limiting of methane from oil and gas fracking.”
Pruitt’s mischief in his personal dealings
The mounting evidence indicates that Pruitt has violated his “ethics pledge.” Michael Biesecker reports: “Ethics rules covering federal officials say they must remain impartial when making regulatory decisions and can’t show favoritism. Pruitt also signed an ethics pledge when joining the Trump administration in which he promised not to accept gifts from lobbyists. (Biesecker) (https://www.boston.com/news/politics/2018/04/04/epa-chief-gets-support-from-trump-warning-from-white-house).
Guess what? Alex Formuzis, Environmental Working Group (EWG), April 9, 2018 reports: “David J. Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent a scathing letter to the EPA’s ethics office, saying that Pruitt’s actions ‘may constitute a violation of the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch,’ The New York Times reported today. The letter cites Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental of a condominium tied to an energy lobbyist, his frequent government-funded flights home to Oklahoma, and his reported firing or demoting EPA staff who raised concerns about his actions (https://www.ewg.org/release/are-possible-violations-federal-law-enough-finally-send-scott-pruitt-packing#.WucYVOSWzlU) (You can see Apol’s letter at: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/4433878.pdf.) There are calls by members of the U.S. Congress for investigations and 91of members want Pruitt fired.
Formuzis lists the scandals that have engulfed Pruitt and raised serious questions about his ethical failures while being EPA administrator.
• Paying rock-bottom rent to live in a condo linked to a fossil fuel lobbyist.
• Spending $3 million in taxpayer money on a 20-person security detail.
• Ignoring White House protocol and giving senior aides massive pay raises.
• Demanding unsuccessfully that his motorcade turn on the sirens to blow through traffic en route to lunch at a fancy French restaurant.
• Demoting and firing EPA employees who questioned his extravagant spending of taxpayer dollars.
• Proposing spending $100,000 per month for private plane charter service.
• Asking to spend $70,000 on two desks, including one that would be bulletproof. (Formuzis)
The pundits are asking whether Trump will dismiss Pruitt. Whether he goes or stays, and beyond Trump and his administration, the larger and dire environmental trends continue. Only radical reform will do.