Scott Pruitt will have to change EPA policies—and culture
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Scott Pruitt may face the biggest challenge of all of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointments.  That’s because the Environmental Protection Agency, more than any other federal agency, is dedicated to a cause rather than the public.

The agency’s budget is relatively small at $8.1 billion for 2016—for comparison, the Department of Energy’s 2016 budget was $30 billion. And nearly half of it is distributed in “grants to state environmental programs, non-profits, educational institutions, and others,” to support its mission of “protecting human health and the environment,” according to the agency.

Actually, the agency does much more than that—and that’s the problem.

As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt tried to constrain the EPA by leading or joining several multistate lawsuits challenging the agency’s regulatory mischief, especially with respect to air, water and carbon emissions.

For example, in West Virginia v. EPA, 29 states challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 emissions at existing electricity-generating power plants under a little-used provision in the Clean Air Act.  This novel approach prompted the Environmental Law Reporter to note, “… the fact that so many fundamental legal questions about the scope of EPA’s authority have not yet been conclusively resolved by the courts introduces a level of legal uncertainty that has seldom been seen in the Agency’s 40-plus year history of regulating air pollution.”

Having challenged the EPA from the outside, Pruitt now has the opportunity to challenge—and remake—it from the inside.  Here are some needed changes:

Eliminate non-essential and insubordinate personal.  The EPA has 15,000 employees. It’s a fair guess that many of them aren’t just trying to protect the environment; they’re trying to rid the world of fossil fuels.

Some of the employees may try their best to undermine Pruitt’s—and President TrumpDonald John TrumpConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary Trump defends Nielsen amid criticism over family separations MORE’s—policies, which is why the head of Trump’s transition team reportedly wanted to cut the number to 5,000.  Best to show such ideologues the door so they can work for private sector environmental groups.  They will be much happier—and so will taxpayers who no longer have to pay their salaries.

Limit the EPA to its intended purpose. One of Pruitt’s biggest challenges will be to determine what the EPA is actually supposed to do under the law.  The agency has been so aggressive in expanding its own agenda that it may be hard to disentangle its legitimate functions from its ideological ones.  

Fortunately, Pruitt has played a major role in challenging the EPA’s efforts to micromanage state environmental policy, and he will have a pretty good idea where to start.

Roll back CAFE standards and ethanol mandates.  CAFE standards require auto manufacturers to meet government-imposed fuel economy standards across a fleet of cars, forcing carmakers to make light, inexpensive—and less profitable—regular and hybrid cars with high fuel economy to offset the trucks and SUVs that most consumers want.  

Those mileage requirements were dramatically increased by the Obama EPA—to an average of 50 mpg by 2015. Scaling back the standards—or better yet, eliminating them completely—would make it easier for automakers to manufacture small cars in the U.S., a top goal of the new president.  Eighteen major auto manufacturer CEOs just sent a letter to the White House asking for relief from the current standards.  Now news reports indicate the Trump administration will reopen its emissions review.

In addition, Pruitt should also roll back the biofuels mandate that requires ever-increasing amounts of ethanol to be mixed with gasoline.  Congress will have to act to eliminate the mandate completely, but the EPA has the power to postpone the increases—at least it did under the Obama administration. 

End the war on carbon. The Obama EPA, bolstered by a 2007 Supreme Court decision, declared war on greenhouse gases, and especially carbon.  It used that power to impose dramatic and costly new regulations on states and businesses.

Reducing our carbon footprint is important, and the U.S. has been doing exactly that—and, incidentally, doing a better job than most countries that rail against climate change.  But managing carbon should not undermine economic growth.  

The goal should be the cleanest possible environment consistent with a thriving economy. In fact, only a prosperous, growing economy has the time and resources to ensure a clean environment.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow at

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.