Scott Pruitt’s year of environmental destruction

When the polluters say “Jump!” Scott Pruitt asks, “How high?”

As the head of the Environmental Protection Agency nears the end of his first year in office, he’s amassed a stunning record of powwows with corporate chiefs, ideological groups, and conservative public officials.

And he’s doing his darndest to roll back almost any public health and environmental protection he apparently finds troublesome — clean air, water, land and environmental safeguards that have taken years, even decades to build up. And no rollback, rescission or repeal is off limits.

On Thursday, Pruitt’s testifying on Capitol Hill before a House panel. Here’s a question for him:  When will you take even one decisive step to increase protections for our health and the environment we depend on?

The fact is, Pruitt — who made his career suing EPA to stop it from doing its job before he took the helm — has overseen a historic year of environmental destruction.

{mosads}Or we might say, “attempted destruction,” because many Pruitt moves have already been challenged in court, he’s lost some cases, reversed course in others and is sure to face further litigation when he finalizes rollback plans.   

By any measure, though, industry is calling his shots.

Let’s start with last spring, when chemical industry officials got his ear, after which Pruitt overruled EPA’s own chemical safety scientists, and rejected a recommended ban on chlorpyrifos. A dangerous pesticide widely sprayed on apples, corn, soybeans, strawberries and dozens of other food crops, chlorpyrifos puts children at increased risk of an array of learning and behavioral disabilities, including reduced IQ, autism, developmental delay and ADHD.

In March, Pruitt revoked a requirement for oil and gas companies to report their methane emissions one day after Republican governors and attorneys general from 11 states wrote a letter complaining about costs and paperwork for the companies.

When Pruitt later suspended those companies’ obligation to look for and fix methane leaks from their newest equipment, the court of appeals in Washington slapped him down.

Capping a series of meetings with the dirty energy companies responsible for methane pollution, Pruitt initially delayed life-saving ozone protections, and he struck a separate deal with a mining company to skirt previously established protections and expand their operations.

After a spate of meetings with coal executives and mining lobbyists, Pruitt proposed to suspend deadlines requiring coal companies to contain toxic waste from coal plants, including a mercury wastewater and coal ash.

About a month after meetings with corporations responsible for dangerous groundwater contamination, Pruitt moved to rescind the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS) that would limit dangerous toxins leaching into Americans’ drinking water.

This Clean Water Rule, a 2015 measure to protect wetlands and the kinds of streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans, was years in the making and informed by more than 400 stakeholder meetings nationwide, 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific studies and more than a million public comments from small business owners, scientists, public health experts, anglers, hunters, and others.

After meeting with the largest manufacturer of commercial truck “gliders,” Pruitt recently created a “special-interest loophole” that could result in more pollution from heavy-duty trucks.

Pruitt also met earlier with representatives from the auto industry who complained it would be difficult and costly to meet fuel economy goals they had agreed upon with the Obama administration. Then he reopened a review of standards for vehicle model years 2021 through 2025.

Coal magnate Robert Murray appears to have great access to Pruitt and President Trump’s team. After meeting with him several times, Pruitt ordered his agency to jettison the 2015 Clean Power Plan, a vital rule to clean up dirty power plants. Those plants account for nearly 40 percent of the dangerous carbon pollution that is driving global climate change.

Pruitt followed that move in October with a proposed repeal of the plan and opened a public comment period soliciting suggested replacements. The only public hearing, so far, was held November 28-29 in the heart of coal country, Charleston, W.Va..

That must have seemed clever to Pruitt, but supporters of the Clean Power Plan came out in force to speak at the hearing — outnumbering the foes of the carbon limits 4-1.

Also this year, the EPA received more than 400,000 comments this urging it to act against neonicotinoids, which threaten bees and other pollinators. And nearly 470,000 Americans responded last spring when Pruitt asked for a list of rules to roll back. They said, “lay off” by a ratio of 60-1.

Pruitt should start heeding the call of public opinion, not the demands of polluters who put us in peril. If he won’t, the president should fire him. The American people deserve better.

Ana Unruh Cohen is director of the government affairs program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group with more than three million members and online activists.

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