Optimism for the EPA in the Age of Trump
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With the confirmation of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to become the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency, President Trump is ready to make good on some of his campaign promises to roll back several of President Obama’s controversial, costly, and legally questionable regulations.

That’s great news for Americans, the economy, and the environment. But apparently not for the Washington Post, which reported that the president’s anticipated directives pit the economy against the environment by sending “an unmistakable signal that the new administration is determined to promote fossil-fuel production and economic activity even when those activities collide with some environmental safeguards.”

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While the president is focused on the agency, he should also stick a fork in the cynical, Obama-era narrative that has been perpetuated by the EPA and leftist allies and parroted by a predictable press that Americans must choose between the environment and energy development.

 

Pruitt took the first step in course correction as he told EPA staff, “I believe we as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment,” which sends an unmistakable signal that for the next four years Americans won’t be forced into a false either-or choice.

We are the same nation that put a man on the moon using a slide rule. In 2017, we certainly can protect the environment, promote human well-being, and develop our natural resources.

This approach stands in stark contrast to Obama’s EPA, which believed the only way to a clean environment was through regulatory self-flagellation. We must punish ourselves for being prosperous by driving up the cost of electricity, shutting down domestic energy development, and creating a culture of fear and scarcity.

Obama’s EPA was a rulemaking machine, pumping out an average of almost 500 new rules per year, adding over 33,000 pages to the Federal Register, and increasing compliance costs by hundreds of billions, as Americans for Tax Reform reported last summer.

Environmental special interest groups provided cover and resources for the EPA, converting the once well-intentioned regulatory agency into allied headquarters for the climate-industrial complex and their anti-fossil fuel allies.

Groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council colluded with the EPA on messaging and policy and had access to agency officials via closed-door meetings. Now the NRDC is leading the “Trump is anti-environment” and “Scott Pruitt wants to take us back to the ‘50s” charge.

Intentional mischaracterization of Pruitt “suing the agency he will be charged with running” should be dismissed as eco-left sound bites. Holding an agency accountable is not a disqualifier. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, voters tasked Pruitt with protecting the interests of the state and supporting the rule of law. When the EPA overstepped its authority and threatened his state, he rightfully sued the agency.

Trump is a results-driven businessman. Under his administration, with its renewed sense of optimism and faith in the American entrepreneurial spirit, the president expects Americans to show the world that we can develop our natural resources responsibly, produce our own energy, create jobs, get our economy growing, and be excellent stewards of our environment.

The best way to do all of that is not through onerous, costly regulation that stifles creativity, but rather through an innovative free market that regulates where necessary but doesn’t result in government-sanctioned winners and losers. When we put results ahead of rhetoric, every person, policy, and idea has an opportunity regardless of which side of the aisle they call home.

This type of scenario is where true environmentalists and free marketeers can find common ground as happened in Colorado. Recently, a progressive Democrat freshman and a veteran conservative Republican collaborated on a simple pro-market, pro-environment bill to affirm the right of residential ratepayers to install batteries and provide more options for consumers.

For entirely different reasons, the Independence Institute, my employer and my state’s free-market think tank, and the Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club worked together in support of the bill.  Unfortunately, the bill died in committee. But it will be back with bipartisan support.

This is a small example of the possibility of energy and environmental cooperation in the age of Trump. Assuming we want results rather than overheated rhetoric, this may be the greatest opportunity for us to enjoy a pristine environment, abundant domestic energy production, affordable power, and a thriving economy.

Yes, we can have it all. The environmental left must come to grips with that or it will be left behind. If the Sierra Club and the Independence Institute can find common ground on one issue that benefits both free markets and a clean environment, there is reason for optimism for the EPA.

Amy Oliver Cooke is the executive vice president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver, and was a member of the Trump transition team for EPA.


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