EPA Staffers Are Begging Congress To Stop Scott Pruitt Today
Scott Pruitt at Trump Tower in December. (Getty)
[UPDATE BELOW]: President Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has spent the majority of his career fighting against the EPA, having served as an outspoken ally of the fossil fuel industry and, as Oklahoma's attorney general, repeatedly suing the agency over protective policies. So, unsurprisingly, the folks who work at the EPA are aghast at the prospect of having him as their boss, and they're lobbying their senators in hopes of getting his confirmation—set for today—blocked.
The Times reports that scientists, environmental lawyers and policy experts within the EPA are terrified that Pruitt and Trump, who denies that climate change is real, will undo the regulations set by the agency. Trump is already reportedly preparing to sign executive orders on the EPA as soon as Pruitt is confirmed, with a source inside the administration telling Inside EPA the orders could “suck the air out of the room,” which is not a great metaphor for the department in charge of keeping air breathable. It's likely at least one of the orders will have something to do with the United States' participation in the Paris climate deal, which Trump has vowed to void, because fuck it, who needs civilization?
Though it is incredibly rare for workers in a bureaucracy to attempt to block their cabinet pick, EPA workers say Pruitt, who sued the EPA at least 14 times as Oklahoma's AG, has a record showing him to be a comrade-in-arms with the anti-climate change, anti-regulation Trump administration. “E.P.A. staff are pretty careful. They’re risk-averse,” Judith Enck, who left the EPA last month, told the Times. “If people are saying and doing things like this, it’s because they’re really concerned.”
As for former EPA employees, nearly 800 have signed a letter also asking senators to block Pruitt’s nomination.
Lovers of the environment shared by all life on earth fear Pruitt will roll back Obama regulations like the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. “It seems like Trump and Pruitt want a complete reversal of what E.P.A. has done. I don’t know if there’s any other agency that’s been so reviled. So it’s in our interests to do this," EPA lawyer Nicole Cantello said.
Pruitt will probably be confirmed, with two Democratic senators— Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia—set to vote for him. Only Maine senator Susan Collins has vowed to oppose him on the Republican side. Still, Pruitt will hopefully face an uphill battle within the agency, considering the opposition to him within it. “What it means is that it’s going to be a blood bath when Pruitt gets in there,” Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA administrator under George W. Bush, told the Times. Civil Service laws will make it difficult for Pruitt to boot employees who disagree with his policies, but the White House can change those laws.
Meanwhile, an Oklahoma judge ruled yesterday that 3,000 emails Pruitt sent as Oklahoma AG must be released, a move environmental groups hope will dig deeper into his cozy relationship with fossil fuel companies. The bad news is that judge gave the AG's office until Tuesday to release those emails, and the Senate will vote on Pruitt today. Groups like Greenpeace are calling on the Senate to delay the vote until after the emails are released.
“Today’s ruling is just the sort of transparency that people have been demanding and that the Trump administration has been working desperately to cover up," Greenpeace spokesperson Travis Nichols said in a statement. "Instead of allowing the release of these documents to inform their decision, the Senate is attempting to rush through a vote. The question is, what are they afraid of? The ‘see-no-evil’ approach is not going to work for America."
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following fiery statement:
"Today, Congress confirmed a dangerously unqualified candidate to lead the EPA. Scott Pruitt has shown a deep and abiding contempt for the agency he will lead and the environmental laws he is now charged with enforcing.
“Pruitt’s record on environmental protection is shameful. He has repeatedly sued the very agency he will now lead in an effort to undermine fundamental clean air, clean water and climate change protections. Many of his lawsuits remain pending with the courts - and, troublingly, Pruitt is refusing to recuse himself from those matters.
“Job number one for the EPA is enforcing our country’s environmental laws. Yet while serving as Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt refused to enforce the law against companies that polluted the state's air and water, instead doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry at the expense of public health.
“Let me be clear: my office will stand firmly in the way if Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration threaten to gut the progress we’ve made in protecting our environment and tackling the dire impacts of climate change. We won’t hesitate to protect New Yorkers - even if that means stepping up enforcement ourselves, and bringing litigation against the federal government - because too much is at stake.”