Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who built his political career by trying to tear down clean air and water safeguards, has just been confirmed to lead the agency that’s supposed to enforce them.
This after the Senate rammed through his nomination before its members had a chance to review thousands of emails related to this secretive alliance with oil and gas interests – emails that an Oklahoma judge yesterday ordered Pruitt to release.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who joined the opposition to this dangerous appointment, thank you for your activism. Your support made this vote much closer than many expected, convincing senators such as Republican Susan Collins of Maine to oppose Pruitt, and putting us in a much stronger position for the fights ahead.
The confirmation process has demonstrated our ability to mobilize and fight back. It helped us build a vibrant community of environmental watchdogs and active citizens who will now follow every move Administrator Pruitt makes.
What we’ve accomplished together since this nomination was first announced gives me hope for the days ahead.
Together, we unmasked Scott Pruitt
Thanks to efforts of activists, the press and many other organizations, every senator was made aware of Scott Pruitt’s disturbing past. Although he tried, he could not obscure his long record of attacking EPA’s mission to keep our air and water clean. Or the fact that he took money from the big energy interests who would benefit from weaker pollution rules.
Activists were able to force the release of the trove of emails between Pruitt and big energy interests. Enterprising advocates and journalists uncovered proof that he dismantled Oklahoma’s environmental enforcement unit in 2011 and raised millions in political cash from the very companies he will now oversee – companies that have violated EPA standards hundreds of times in recent years.
His credibility is now in serious question, which will constrain his ability to move his risky agenda.
This administration may have assumed an easy confirmation process, but we made sure it was a thorough vetting. That will be critically important in our efforts to hold the senators who voted for him responsible for the actions he will take while in office.
We forced him to change publicly held positions
After a career that included suing EPA at least 14 times, Pruitt attempted a confirmation conversion, suddenly claiming a raft of new, environmentally friendly positions on key issues. He claims to have come around on:
- Methane: “I am concerned” about the impacts of methane in driving global warming.
- Ozone: “I agree that ground-level ozone is a dangerous pollutant that can cause respiratory and cardiovascular harm. … I believe EPA should focus on helping [non-attainment] areas meet that standard.”
- Mercury: “I agree … that mercury is something that is very dangerous to the environment and should be regulated….As Administrator, I will enforce the Mercury Air Toxics Rule so long as that Rule remains in force.”
- Cross-State Air Pollution: “I believe the Cross State Air Pollution Rule is important and should be enforced by the EPA. An upwind state that contributes to a downwind state’s nonattainment should take responsibility for that contribution.”
The senators who accepted these statements – despite all the evidence to the contrary from his long record – have an obligation to hold Administrator Pruitt to these newly developed views. Environmental Defense Fund, our allies, and the public will hold him accountable, too.
We are winning at the state level
At times like these state action becomes absolutely critical. And in December came an unexpected breakthrough: The state of Illinois stepped up with the most significant climate and energy bill in the state’s history.
The Future Energy Jobs Bill [PDF] will cut Illinois’ carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector almost 56 percent by 2030, far more than the 34 percent goal under the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is threatening to dismantle.
Ohio and Michigan, which like Illinois have Republican governors, are making similar plays.
The lesson? Those playing climate defense in Washington can also play offense at state level, and win.
We can still protect sensible methane regulations
Vital rules limiting methane pollution on federal and tribal lands, which wastes more than $330 million worth of taxpayer natural gas every year, are now under attack in Congress.
Using a little-known legislative procedure, the Congressional Review Act, the House has already voted to block these pollution limits. But we are heartened that the vote was closer than on any oil and gas pollution issue in years.
Members of both parties favor federal standards to limit oil and gas methane leaks, according to results of a recent survey [PDF], and by large margins. Senators who vote to roll back the BLM methane waste rules do so against the will of the vast majority of their constituents.
We were relentless in our efforts to protect and defend our air and water, and the health and safety of our children – long before Administrator Pruitt was confirmed – and we’ll remain relentless in those efforts in the days ahead.
There’s simply too much at stake to do anything less.