Industry gains clout within Pruitt’s EPA

Industry gains clout within Pruitt’s EPA
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken an industry-friendly turn under the Trump administration.

Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEnvironmentalists renew bid to overturn EPA policy barring scientists from advisory panels Six states sue EPA over pesticide tied to brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules MORE is moving to address several top priorities of the energy, agriculture and automotive sectors and has been meeting frequently with industry representatives, according to his schedules. He has also chosen people with close industry ties for important positions.

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It’s a major shift from the Obama administration, when business groups felt that they were shut out of the process.

“It was the Obama administration that abandoned a successful, consensus-based energy strategy that had prevailed throughout the entire post-war period, one that encouraged all energy sources,” said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association.

“The current administration is simply returning to this time-tested approach. Americans are now more likely to benefit from a more secure and resilient grid built on baseload power as well as renewable power.”

The mining association has advocated against the EPA’s rules on toxic water pollutants from coal-fired power plants; its Clean Water Rule, which would have put small waterways under the EPA’s jurisdiction; and its Clean Power Plan, which would have limited carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, among others.

Pruitt has delayed or worked to roll back all of those policies. He also spoke to the group’s leadership in April.

Environmental groups have gotten less attention from the EPA. They fear the agency’s core mission is taking a back seat to the interests of industry.

“This man’s entire career has been devoted to dismantling the EPA, going after the fundamental environmental laws that we all count on to protect public health,” said Liz Perera, climate policy director at the Sierra Club. The group has not met with Pruitt since he was confirmed in February.

“What does surprise us is that the public isn’t as outraged as they should be, and they don’t know.”

The EPA released Pruitt’s meeting schedules from April to September on Friday. The calendar shows that Pruitt has met frequently with industry groups or companies with interests at the EPA, like the American Gas Association, the Auto Alliance, Valero Energy Corp. and state agriculture associations.

“As EPA has been the poster child for regulatory overreach, the Agency is now meeting with those ignored by the Obama administration,” Liz Bowman said. “As we return EPA to its core mission, Administrator Pruitt is leading the agency through process, the rule of law and cooperative
federalism.”

At times, Pruitt’s meetings preceded major decisions favorable to those groups or companies. For example, he met with leadership of the Pebble Limited Partnership shortly before withdrawing a proposal from the Obama administration to pre-emptively block a major mining project the company planned in Alaska.

While environmental groups are getting less face time at the EPA, they have not been shut out.

Pruitt’s calendar shows that he has met with officials from the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society and Trout Unlimited, as well as Bob Perciasepe, an EPA deputy administrator under President Obama and current head of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Pruitt also met in May with leaders from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advocates for stronger air pollution rules.

In line with the rest of the administration, Pruitt’s biggest focus at the EPA has been reducing regulations. Frequently, he’s taken those actions after receiving an industry request.

His decision not to further restrict the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos came after pleas from industry. So did his delays of Obama’s methane regulations for oil and natural gas drilling, his postponement of Obama’s rule on chemical plant safety plans and his embrace of industry-supported regulations governing how the agency will review chemicals for safety.

And as Pruitt and Trump move to fill out leadership roles at the 15,000-person agency, they are often recruiting people who have been in the trenches battling EPA regulations.

Michael Dourson, tapped to lead the chemical safety office, has run an organization that conducts industry-friendly analyses of chemicals.

William Wehrum, slated to be the top air regulator at the EPA, is an attorney at Hunton & Williams, representing major business clients who are fighting EPA rules.

Elizabeth Bennett, meanwhile, was recently put in charge of public engagement. She previously lobbied at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Business leaders say Pruitt is striking an effective balance and keeping necessary rules and programs in place.

“We have been pleased with the response from EPA regarding eliminating duplicative and ineffective programs as well as regulatory requirements that needlessly delay infrastructure projects,” said Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association.

“We have also highlighted for them programs we believe are vital to maintain, like the Greenhouse Gas Inventory.”

But Pruitt’s actions at the EPA suggest nothing less than an industry takeover.

“The American people expect their public officials to be working on behalf of all of them and not a select few, but with the Trump EPA you see meeting after meeting with industry and then Pruitt acting in their favor,” Liz Purchia, the EPA’s top spokeswoman under Obama, said of Pruitt’s schedule.

“It’s not much of a vision for the agency, it’s just trying to dismantle any action that was done under the Obama administration.”