Energy & Environment

Pruitt will reform EPA’s heavy-handed regulations

Getty Images

It’s clear from all the contrived outrage over many of Donald Trump’s cabinet choices and agency positions that partisan, obstructionist politics remains alive and well in Washington.

The recent announcement that President-elect Trump will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency has generated an explosion of outrage from the full range of environmental lobbyists and their allies in the Democratic Party.   

Judging by the howls coming from the environmental community, one may think the U.S. will soon descend into the dystopian future of “Soylent Green”. 

The reality, however, is the EPA is in need of some serious change. The agency needs to understand the importance of a reasonable regulatory approach — one that recognizes the importance of environmental protection, as well as jobs and energy production.

The EPA also needs leadership that understands the constitutional limits of the agency. Based on his record, Pruitt has demonstrated a clear understanding of all these things.

According to data released by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Obama administration issued 108 economically significant regulations over the last eight years at a total cost of $116 billion.

Of this total estimated cost, well over half ($70 billion) came from the EPA alone. These costs include only the economic consequences EPA chooses to measure, not the uncertainty and delays associated with seeking EPA approvals.

The EPA, of course, argues that the benefits of these regulations exceed the costs, but a closer look suggests an alternative view. 

Pruitt’s opposition to EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), a program that attempts to curtail carbon emissions from the U.S. electric power sector, is a good starting point. According to the EPA, the program will generate annual costs between $1.4 and $8 billion per year by 2020.

However, the EPA’s own calculations show that the CPP will have virtually no effect on global temperatures. Instead, the U.S. is purchasing some kind of climate leadership role.  

To justify the program, the EPA argues there are additional benefits to the program, like reductions in mercury, sulfur and other pollutants from shutting down coal power plants, but the U.S. have existing programs to justify regulating these pollutants. 

Pruitt has been called an ideologue and rogue player, but Oklahoma’s legal opposition to the CPP is joined by 28 other states. If over half the states in the country have legitimate concerns that the program is unreasonable, it’s hard to call Pruitt a rogue player.  

In fact, his leadership on the issue should be welcomed by those concerned about the economy and the limits of executive power.

Let’s not forget about the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines. Both projects would enhance energy security, safety, efficiency and environmental protection as crude oil moves across North America. The EPA has played an active public role in opposing both projects, each of which is likely to get new life under the Trump administration.  

Then, there’s the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which adds increasing volumes of corn ethanol to the gasoline pool, regardless of cost or technical constraints.

The ethanol mandate is now spiking gasoline prices by 12 cents per gallon and is opposed by billionaire Carl Icahn, pork producers, grocery retailers, and the National Restaurant Association, along with many environmental groups.  

While the EPA argues it is merely following the requirements of the statute, it has the ability to use its waiver to keep the program from getting too costly. Its recent decision to fulfill the mandatory requirements looks more like an initiative to stick it to gasoline consumers.  

Like many of the EPA’s regulatory programs, we’re on the steep angle of the cost curve — paying a lot for very little. New leadership at the EPA needs to take a serious look at the implementation of the ethanol mandate program. 

Perhaps the most egregious regulation is the EPA’s initiative to accelerate its timetable for review of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The CAFE requirement aims to make cars travel 54 miles per gallon (MPG), but is without a full review of technical feasibility or U.S. auto industry implications.

The National Academy of Sciences raised concerns over the potential for “stranded costs” — a code phrase for a regulatory program requiring an industry to build something consumers don’t want to buy — but the EPA is arguing that the standards are in fact technically feasible.  

The new MPG standards are technically feasible, but just because it is possible to put a Tesla on the moon doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. 

The EPA is clearly an agency in need of major change to ensure that the federal government is not imposing needless regulations that harm the economy, raise costs for businesses and motorists, while still protecting our environment. Pruitt has a record which demonstrates he plans to do just that.


Lucian (Lou) Pugliaresi is president of the Energy Policy Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that studies energy economics and policy issues with special emphasis on oil, natural gas, and petroleum product markets.


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

Tags Automobile costs Climate change policy in the United States Corporate Average Fuel Economy Donald Trump Energy economics Environmental policy in the United States Fuel economy in automobiles Green vehicles Transport economics United States Environmental Protection Agency
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video