Energy & Environment

Trump taps Oklahoma attorney general to lead EPA

Greg Nash

President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate Scott Pruitt, the Republican attorney general of Oklahoma and a frequent legal adversary to President Obama, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a transition official told The Hill.

If confirmed by the Senate to oversee the 15,000-employee agency, Pruitt would take the lead on dismantling the EPA regulations that Trump targeted throughout his campaign as job killers that restrict economic growth. 

Reuters first reported the news Tuesday.

{mosads}Pruitt has been a legal opponent of President Obama over nearly every major regulation and executive action, not only on environmental issues but also ObamaCare, immigration and bathroom use by transgender people. 

Pruitt has led litigation against Obama’s landmark climate rule for power plants, as well as water regulations and standards for ground-level ozone pollution, haze, methane and more. 

As EPA head, Pruitt would help carry out Trump’s campaign promises to repeal Obama’s entire executive climate change agenda, including the Clean Power Plan, which the president-elect said he will target in his first 100 days in office.

Democrats and enviromentalists are already gearing up to fight his nomination. 

“We’re certainly going to draw a line in the sand,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. 

“This is the worst-case scenario when it comes to clean air and clean water, to nominate a climate denier to the agency charged with protecting our natural resources.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an EPW member, said he will “vigorously” oppose Pruitt, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said “there will be a fight” over his nomination. 

“I think he has a record and it will scrutinized, and there will be opposition there as a result.”

Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday that the transition team is used to criticism. 

“We’re very accustomed to the naysayers and the critics,” she said, according to pool reports. “Attorney General Pruitt has great qualifications and a good record as AG of Oklahoma, and there were a number of qualified candidates for that particular position that the president-elect interviewed. We look forward to the confirmation hearings.” 

Trump wants to repeal the Clean Water Rule, roll back rules on fossil fuel production, review all existing regulations for potential repeal, put a moratorium on nearly all new regulations and require that two rules be repealed for every new rule put in place. 

The Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of Obama’s climate push, ordering a 32 percent cut in the energy sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

Trump sees the plan as part of a “war on coal” by Obama.

“We’re going to get those miners back to work,” Trump said at a campaign rally.

Pruitt has taken a lead role among Republican attorneys general challenging the plan and has argued it would shut down numerous coal-fired power plants in Oklahoma and raise electricity prices.

“This is an effort that I think is extraordinary in cost, extraordinary in scope, and I think extraordinary as it relates to the intrusion into the sovereignty of the states,” Pruitt said in September about the regulation.

He charged that the rule “coerces” states to reorganize their electricity systems and “commandeers” state resources to do that, in violation of the Constitution. 

“It’s an invasion … of the state regulatory domain, and it’s something that is unique and breathtaking as it relates to the kind of rulemaking the EPA has engaged in historically,” he said.

Pruitt and his fellow GOP attorneys general succeeded in convincing the Supreme Court to put an unprecedented pause on the rule earlier this year. 

Pruitt has also been a key figure in fighting the Clean Water Rule, also known as Waters of the United States, which asserts federal jurisdiction over small waterways like wetlands and streams.

“This regulation usurps the state’s authority over its land and water use, and triggers numerous and costly obligations under the [Clean Water] Act for the state and its citizens,” he wrote last year in a court filing. 

States and companies challenging the water rule also succeeded in convincing a federal court to block its implementation while it is litigated.

The president-elect has also said he’s strongly committed to protecting clean air and water and stopping drinking water contamination crises like in Flint, Mich., situations Trump calls “real environmental challenges.”

Pruitt’s opinion on climate change aligns with that of Trump, who repeatedly has dismissed global warming as a hoax, in conflict with the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity through greenhouse gas emissions is the primary cause of changes in the climate. 

He co-authored a piece in the Tulsa World in May that said the debate over climate “is far from settled” and that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” 

“Reasonable minds can disagree about the science behind global warming, and disagree they do,” he said in a March statement with another conservative attorney general.

Trump’s choice of a climate change skeptic for the EPA comes despite reports that his daughter Ivanka wants to take on fighting climate change as one of her priorities as first daughter. 

Trump and his daughter also met earlier this week with former vice president and climate advocate Al Gore, a meeting Gore described as “very productive” and “extremely interesting.” 

Pruitt has been Oklahoma’s attorney general since 2011. He’s a close ally of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the chamber’s most outspoken climate change skeptic.

Pruitt previously served eight years in Oklahoma’s Senate, where he was elected to GOP leadership. He’s been a private lawyer, an owner of a minor league baseball team and ran for the U.S. House of Representatives unsuccessfully in 2002.

He has a solidly pro-fossil fuel record.

Pruitt was implicated in a December 2014 New York Times investigation, which found that he sent a letter to the EPA complaining about the agency’s measurements of pollution that was secretly written by an oil and natural gas company, part of a “secretive alliance” between Republican attorneys general and energy companies.  

Pruitt has received more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests, according to the National Institute on State Money in Politics

Devin Henry contributed to this story

Tags Al Gore Bernie Sanders Donald Trump James Inhofe Richard Blumenthal
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