Energy & Environment

Pruitt confirmation sets stage for Trump EPA assault


With his pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in place, the stage is set for President Trump to begin his long-promised overhaul of the agency. 
EPA foes and Trump allies say the agency needs to be cut down to size and its regulations reined in after an expansion under President Obama, a position shared by new administrator Scott Pruitt, whom the Senate confirmed Friday. 
Trump is expected to release a string of executive orders aimed at the agency’s operations, and he could unveil them as early as this week. 
The orders will likely delight industry and business groups that have long warned against overregulation from the EPA. But greens, Democrats and agency boosters warn that Trump and Pruitt could cripple the agency at a time when climate change and public health issues are calling for a strong federal regulator.
The Senate confirmed Pruitt on a 52-46 vote on Friday, a mostly party-line tally that illustrates the tense partisan divide over Pruitt’s nomination and the agenda he and Trump have set for the EPA. 
Republicans spent years butting heads with an EPA that, under Obama, expanded its regulatory efforts in the administration’s fight against climate change. 
{mosads}They see Pruitt and Trump as agents of change, officials who won’t just undo Obama-era efforts but reduce federal rulemaking and give more deference to states and industries that are the subject of agency regulations. 
“Over the past eight years, the Environmental Protection Agency, with its regulatory rampage, has hurt a lot of people in my home state of Wyoming and all across the country,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said during floor debate over Pruitt’s nomination. 
“The EPA’s overreaching regulations have stunted job growth, hurt our economy, and failed to help the agency meet its mission, and the mission is to protect the environment and the health of all Americans. The EPA needs to be reformed and modernized. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is the right person for the job.”
Sources say Trump is considering visiting EPA headquarters soon to sign executive orders taking aim at agency operations, including its climate work. The move, first reported Tuesday by Inside EPA, would be the opening act of a reform effort that Trump referenced frequently throughout his campaign, one with heavy support among Republicans.
“I think there will be more of a balance between job creation and pollution prevent,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “We can have clean streams and air without shutting down small business and job growth and American agriculture.” 
Only two Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) — voted for Pruitt. The rest steadfastly opposed him during more than a full day of floor debate, saying Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry and his frequent lawsuits against the EPA as Oklahoma’s attorney general should disqualify him for the administrator position.
“If you look at this individual, Scott Pruitt, if you look at his track record, you will see that his actual work has undermined the mission of the agency that he is now nominated to lead,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said in a floor speech. 
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) called him “maybe the last person who should be the next leader of the EPA.”
“We cannot afford to entrust the EPA to Mr. Pruitt or anyone else who has a history of putting polluters’ interests above the public’s and above the economy as a whole,” Franken said.
Democrats had support from many environmental interests, including EPA staffers. 
Nearly 800 former EPA employees signed a letter this week urging the Senate to vote down Pruitt, saying he “does not share the vision or agree with the underlying principles of our environmental statutes.” The group noted his lawsuits and what they consider a lack of environmental work in his career.
Pruitt’s opponents had sought to delay his confirmation until his office releases years’ worth of emails, something an Oklahoma judge ordered on Thursday. 
The emails — which opponents suggest could reveal close ties between Pruitt and his industry supporters — became a key talking point for Democrats in the closing days of debate over his nomination. 
“I think he’s going to find that there are a lot of limits” to his power at the EPA, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said. “My concern is that in the long run he’s going to run into some really serious trouble because of his conflicts of interests and various legal perils.” 
Administration officials wouldn’t give details about a potential Trump visit the EPA or what his executive orders for the agency might look like. But agency critics have a list of issues for him to consider, from nixing Obama’s sweeping climate rule for power plans to reducing the agency’s staffing.
“I think just in general this is one of the really important jobs in the Trump administration in terms of rolling back the over-regulation that’s strangling the economy, particularly resource industries and manufacturing,” said Myron Ebell, the former head of the Trump transition team for the EPA who has since returned to his position at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. 
“My hope is that President Trump and Administrator Pruitt will move expeditiously to fulfill the president’s campaign promises on these issues.”
Ebell predicted Trump will first take aim at four key rules: carbon restrictions on new and old power plants, methane restrictions on new natural gas wells and a rule establishing federal jurisdiction over waters. 
All four were Obama-era regulations — and the first three were centerpieces of his Climate Action Plan. They all drew seething opposition from industry groups and Republicans, and Trump vowed to undo them during his campaign. 
Trump and his team also have their eyes on longer-term goals that will take tough work, such as shifting regulatory powers from the federal government to states, shrinking the size of the 15,000-employee, $8.1 billion agency or overhauling its use of science in rulemaking.
“You can expect a return to a pre-1980s EPA in big ways. That’s a smaller agency, more of a coordinating agency that might coordinate with state departments of environmental protection, but not hand them unfunded, top-down environmental mandates,” said Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma.
“You’re going to see a return to a more constrained EPA, which is really dealing only with pure transboundary issues when it comes to pollution in the states.”
EPA supporters have ravaged Trump’s proposals and have raised red flags over his proposals for the agency.
“It would be different if they said, ‘the Clean Power Plan, that’s over-designed and clunky and we don’t think they have the authority,’ if they had targeted couple of things and said they are going to slow down the rules and target the costs,”  said Eric Schaeffer, the executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former EPA enforcement official. 
“This is a darker picture.” 
Schaeffer predicted legal and public pressure on the agency, especially if Pruitt and Trump overhaul it as they have indicated they will. 
“I think he’s been pretty controversial, and I think he’s going to stay that way,” Schaeffer said. “He’s not going to have a peaceful time at EPA.”
Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, said he expects a wave of legal fights against the agency. 
“The courts will be one weapon, but the public is on our side. It wants clean air and clean water, it wants to protect public health and it’s against the polluters who want to run EPA,” Karpinski said in the Capitol as the Senate voted on Pruitt, while he thanked senators who voted against the administrator.
“I think we will win in the court of public opinion and in the courts themselves.”
Tags Al Franken Heidi Heitkamp Joe Manchin John Barrasso Roger Wicker Sheldon Whitehouse

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