Scott Pruitt's anti-environmental agenda hits a snag: The courts

Fred Krupp

It looks like Scott Pruitt – one of the Trump administration’s most adept operators – may have finally met his match: the law.

With the White House mired in dysfunction, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief has spent the past six months trying to systematically tear down America’s clean air and water safeguards.

But now – thanks to states, the judiciary and the growing voice of the American people – Pruitt’s easy ride may be over.

EPA chief suffers 3 court losses in 2 months

Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, with all 11 active judges participating, dealt Pruitt a setback in his attempt to loosen limits on methane pollution for thousands of oil and gas facilities. That makes a hat trick of Pruitt’s recent losses.

Shortly before this setback, Pruitt withdrew an attempt to delay important actions on smog pollution after coming under legal pressure from states and community groups.

Those defeats followed a decision in early July in which a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit denied Pruitt’s attempt to suspend the methane pollution limits. The full court affirmed that panel’s decision in the August 10 ruling.

Pruitt carries industry’s baggage

Pruitt worked closely with industry lobbyists to block more than 30 environmental rules during his first few months in office, and his attempt to set aside the pollution reductions for oil and gas wells came as no surprise. He has a well-documented history carrying industry’s baggage that dates back to his days as Oklahoma’s Attorney General.

Pruitt announced his initial attempt to postpone methane rules shortly after a closed-door meeting in March with the board of the oil industry’s largest trade association, which had been urging him to delay these protections.

The standards cover facilities built or heavily modified since September 2015 – more than 18,000 wells nationwide, and counting. They sensibly require companies to check sites for leaks of dangerous air pollutants, and to repair them promptly.

Suspending the methane rules, even for a few months, would expose communities across the country to tons of additional pollution at the peak of summer when air quality is at its worst.

Court: EPA’s lawsuit “inaccurate”

The EPA failed to even mention – much less consider – these impacts before trying to suspend the methane rules. In fact, the record shows Pruitt’s justification for halting the methane standards was seriously misleading. The court methodically rejected the agency’s arguments, concluding they were “inaccurate and thus unreasonable.”

The August 10 ruling is a strong reminder that the Clean Air Act and other laws cannot simply be swept aside, and it makes clear that facts and an open process matter.

Pruitt is now trying to delay compliance with the same methane pollution limits by two full years – even though he conceded publicly that doing so would likely harm children’s health.

As public pressure mounts, Congress wavers

At a public hearing this summer, citizens opposing the roll-back outnumbered supporters 116 to 2 – another clear sign that Americans want the EPA to maintain public health protections, not demolish them.

It serves as fair warning to Pruitt that he needs to comply with the law and give the public a voice in the process. 

Even in Congress, there are signs that the administration has gone too far.

In May, for example, the White House suffered its first direct legislative defeat on any issue. Three Republican senators crossed party lines to vote down a measure to kill Bureau of Land Management methane waste rules for oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands.

None of this means Congress or the courts will put a complete stop to the Trump administration’s attacks on clean air and water. It’s going to continue to be a tough fight.

But it does serve as fair warning to Pruitt that he needs to comply with the law and give the public a voice in the process.

Pruitt is accountable to the law

As our EPA chief continues his campaign to roll back safeguards, there will surely be additional court challenges. And if he continues his track record of excluding the public and making inaccurate arguments, we will hold him accountable to the law.

Ultimately, however, what will keep these safeguards in place is what made them happen in the first place – the American people demanding responsible development and a better world for their children.

Comments

Can anyone at EDF answer this question? If God permitting some person on this planet invented a completely green free-energy device that powered the world and reversed global warming, what would happen to the global economy and Big Energy including OPEC? What about the inventor?

Dave Koehler
August 24, 2017 at 7:33 pm

My answer to Dave Koehler's question: They all would need to adapt to life's ever-changing circumstances just as we all must do. This would be a change for the better in every way! Let us hope a miracle happens before all of Earth's natural resources are depleted -- before our planet becomes an empty shell under able to sustain life!

Creative inventors are always needed with an unending plethora of possibilities so long as we have gifted critically thinking people. Present status quo is unsustainable and inferior to better ways to come!

Barbara Pinson
August 29, 2017 at 1:31 am

In reply to by Dave Koehler

He needs to be placed in a sealed chamber filled with the air his regualion would produce. See how he feels after breathing it for 48 to 96 hours. He can be our test subject.

John Livengood
August 28, 2017 at 12:49 am

Was an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) done by the EPA for the Clean Air and the Clean Water Act? If not, it should have been for any major federal action.

All info is taken from industry and the states and sent to the EPA. The states don't check industry either, so reports are one-sided in industries' favor. Did the EPA investigate the reports from industry, or accept the reports without investigating them 'as is'? If the EPA didn't fact-check themselves on site, a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) would be issued. If the EPA didn't check on-site themselves, their report should be considered a falsification of documentation.

Every Industry releases tons of chemicals daily, but in some states chemical releases are not required to be told to the public and are sent to the state and the EPA from industry, which self-polices themselves. Regulations should be put back in place on all industry for the protection of air, water, and the environment.

Children, the sick and elderly are most vulnerable to any releases. It's too late when everyone needs to wear gas masks to breathe, and when all water is so polluted it can never be used again. The bottom line for all industry is money. We only have one planet and need to protect it fiercely. It's our planet and home, and doesn't belong to industries, but to all people. We have to put people over profit first. We only have our lives to lose if we don't! That's too high a price to pay and no one should be considered "expendable," or "collateral damage."

Wanda
August 28, 2017 at 9:12 am

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