Former EPA administrator: Scandals aside, Pruitt must answer for his actions at agency

Former EPA administrator: Scandals aside, Pruitt must answer for his actions at agency
© Getty Images

As President TrumpDonald TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care MORE might say, everybody is talking about the job Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOklahoma AG resigns following news of divorce, alleged affair Court sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues Scientific integrity, or more hot air? MORE is doing. Pruitt will have to answer to Congress Thursday for the mounting scandals and allegations being made against him, including his most serious actions — his attempts to roll back decades of important public health and environmental protections.

The mission of the EPA is to protect our health and the environment. Pruitt has brazenly ignored that directive and instead focused on stacking the EPA with industry insiders, who are intentionally working to undermine science, scientists and EPA’s authority to enforce existing laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.


Last year, millions of Americans endured a historically deadly and destructive extreme weather season that devastated communities and dislocated families across the southern United States, many of which have yet to fully recover. Yet, Pruitt is still rapidly moving forward with roll backs of important protections that would limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and from cars — the same pollution that contributes to climate change and dirtier air.


The Clean Power Plan, which sets the first ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants and encourages the development of clean energy, is one of Pruitt’s favorite targets despite the Trump administration’s own projections that this landmark climate change policy will save 4,500 lives annually when fully implemented.

While Pruitt and Trump like to blame the Clean Power Plan for the woes of the coal industry, the reality is free market forces (like other cheaper energy sources) are driving utilities to move from coal to natural gas and renewable energy that is increasingly more cost effective.

First Pruitt must answer: Why is he intent on yielding the 21st century clean energy economy to foreign competitors like India and China instead of developing new energy technologies here at home?

Pruitt is also trying to throw the auto industry in reverse with his plan to roll back clean cars standards that save consumers money and clean up our air. At the behest of Washington special interest groups, he’s undoing an historic agreement reached between the auto companies, states, the EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation to set reasonable achievable goals for fuel efficiency and pollution reductions.

He’s also intent on undermining the coalition of states — more than a dozen — who banded together to work with the auto industry to identify fuel efficiency goals. Even some auto companies are not comfortable with his proposal.

American drivers have already saved more than $47 billion at the pump. Automakers are meeting the standards faster and more affordably than expected, while enjoying strong, sustained sales. And nearly 300,000 American workers across 48 states are building clean car technologies that are improving safety and efficiency for consumers.

Why does Pruitt insist on rolling back the cleaner cars policy — which is working?

Pruitt likes to proclaim that he’s reinstituting the rule of law at the EPA. There’s little evidence of that. Pruitt has openly challenged existing law and questioned EPA’s authority to implement it. He’s also proposed draconian limits on the scientific data, including peer-reviewed studies on public health, which EPA uses to develop new pollution limits and public health protections. His proposal likely violates existing law directing EPA to use the latest available data to inform its deliberative process.

Why would an agency charged with protecting our health not need or use the best data to achieve that goal?

Pruitt says that his extreme rollbacks will not impact EPA’s important enforcement function. A media analysis found that enforcement actions, where the EPA applies the law and seeks accountability for those polluting our air, land and water in violation of the law, are down drastically.

During Pruitt’s first nine months, the EPA initiated about one-third fewer enforcement cases than during the same time frame during the Obama administration and about one-quarter fewer than the same period during the George W. Bush administration. Additionally, civil penalties are down significantly under Pruitt as well.

How can the EPA fulfill its mission to protect our health and environment with enforcement actions reduced significantly?

Pruitt has a lot riding on his testimony, and so do all of us. Americans have lots of questions. The biggest question is: Will we get any answers?

Carol M. Browner served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 1993 to 2001 and as director of the White House office of Energy and Climate Change from 2009 to 2011. Browner
currently serves as board chair for the League of Conservation Voters.