Energy & Environment

The growing case against Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead EPA

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Scott Pruitt’s controversial nomination to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in jeopardy.

When Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee, requested that the committee delay a vote on Pruitt until he fully answered senators’ questions, Republicans initially refused. Democrats took the one path remaining to ensure a full, fair and transparent vetting of Pruitt’s record: successfully boycotting a committee meeting and forcing a postponement in Pruitt’s vote. Top Republican John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) vowed, however, to move Pruitt to the floor in the future.

{mosads}Outside the committee, concerns about Pruitt have been escalating from Republicans and Democrats alike. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) expressed her concerns about “the number of times he has sued the very agency that he has now been tapped to lead.” Christie Todd Whitman, former EPA administrator under George W. Bush, warned that Pruitt is “disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.” Joe Scarborough criticized Pruitt as “out of the mainstream not only of what the overwhelming majority of what science shows but also what most Americans believe.”


Here is the key question on Pruitt: Do senators trust Scott Pruitt to protect children and other vulnerable Americans from toxic poisons like mercury and arsenic, dangerous chemicals like asbestos, contaminated water, and dirty air?

Based on his record, they should not. Here’s why.

First, Pruitt is not qualified for the job. He has built his political career by trying to tear down environmental protections, not support them. Pruitt’s official biography as Attorney General of Oklahoma boasts that he is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” He has filed briefs in 14 lawsuits against EPA. Although many of Pruitt’s cases have been dismissed by the courts, it’s worth considering the impact if he had succeeded: 850,000 additional asthma attacks every year, 28,000 emergency room visits, and three million missed school days and work days.

Pruitt brings no scientific, health or regulatory experience to the job. When Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked whether there is any safe level of lead in drinking water, Pruitt answered, “Senator, that is something I have not reviewed nor know about.”

As Attorney General, Pruitt repeatedly favored the interests of large polluters over protecting the people of Oklahoma. As reported by the New York Times, he abandoned a state lawsuit against companies dumping pollution in Oklahoma’s waterways. Mark Derichsweiler, who led the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality division responsible for overseeing the cleanup, told the Times that Pruitt “has advocated and stood up for the profits of business… at the expense of people who have to drink the water or breathe the air.”

Second, Pruitt is misrepresenting his record as he seeks confirmation. Why? Because his extreme views are not supported by the public. According to a recent poll, 67 percent of Americans want a strengthened or expanded EPA, or for EPA to maintain the same level of protection. Fewer than one-third of Republicans want the EPA to be weakened.

One alarming example of Pruitt running from his record: toxic mercury pollution, which causes brain damage in unborn children. Pruitt joined with coal companies to file a legal brief arguing that mercury and arsenic  emissions from coal-fired power plants “pose no public health hazard.” During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt presented a different story, insisting that he has not made any statement “that mercury is something that shouldn’t be regulated.” Pruitt evaded the issue in his written answers to questions.

Third, Pruitt has a history of using his public office to help the corporate polluters who funded his campaigns. According to an analysis by EDF Action, Pruitt has joined with polluting companies—which contributed to Pruitt’s political campaigns and stood to benefit the most from the attacks on the EPA—in 93 percent of his lawsuits against EPA.

Pruitt was also caught sending letters drafted by industry lawyers to EPA on his official Attorney General stationary—lawyers for energy companies who were contributing money to Pruitt’s political operations. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) asked Pruitt whether he had taken any similar action on behalf of the air pollution crisis in Oklahoma, where one in ten children suffers from asthma. Pruitt responded that he could not do so because there was “no injury.” He was also unaware of the high rate of childhood asthma in his state.

The president’s choices deserve a degree of deference from Congress, but that does not excuse a nominee who has spent his entire career attempting to dismantle environmental protections. That’s why Pruitt is the first EPA nominee from either party that the Environmental Defense Fund has opposed in our 50-year history.

We are not alone. More than one million Americans have flooded the Senate with calls, emails and letters opposing Pruitt. Pro-life Evangelical and Catholic leaders sent a letter warning that Pruitt would not “defend the vulnerable from pollution.” And 500 business leaders have opposed Pruitt as outside America’s “long bipartisan consensus” on the environment.

The stakes are too high for anyone to remain silent. Pruitt’s record demonstrates that he can’t be trusted to ensure the safety of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the chemicals in our homes, and the climate that our children will inherit.

Senators on both sides of the aisle should stand up against Pruitt and block his nomination.

Jeremy Symons is associate vice president of climate change policy at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, DC. He served as an advisor on climate change and energy policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Ben Cardin Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency John Barrasso Scott Pruitt Senate Susan Collins Tom Carper

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