The EPA has a new leader, Scott Pruitt. Of all of President Trump’s Cabinet picks, none seem more nonsensical and overtly hostile toward the agency they’re about to lead than Scott Pruitt has been toward the Environmental Protection Agency—and this includes Rick Perry, who previously advocated dismantling the Department of Energy.
A bit about Scott: He’s a hard-nosed climate-change denier, who has sued the EPA 13 times. In fact, he, like many Trump appointees, hopes to dismantle the agency they control. Pruitt’s cozy ties with the Oklahoma oil and gas industry undermine almost any attempt towards conservation. Nearly 800 former EPA employees signed a letter opposing his confirmation. This is a man who hopes to roll back Obama’s climate change policy—notably that the government shouldn’t be involved in any sort of environmental regulation.
It’ll be nearly impossible for Pruitt to restructure the organization completely—even Reagan couldn’t manage that. But it’s certain he will likely eliminate most climate policies and make it tougher for the U.S.—and world—to tackle global warming for years to come.
So now that Pruitt is in charge, what does that mean for the future of the agency and for science?
For starters, Scott Pruitt’s biggest impact will most likely be felt through climate change policy.
If history is a predictor, then Scott Pruitt’s tenure atop the EPA will look eerily reminiscent to President Reagan’s attempted dismantling of the agency back in 1989. Like Trump, Reagan hoped to dismantle the EPA and make life easier for industry. Environmentalist feared for the worst. Ultimately, though, Reagan, and EPA destruction failed. But the President did succeed in starving science. Not only did the Reagan administration starve and politicize environmental and conservation agencies but the government deliberately delayed attacking long-term issues like global warming linked to pollution, acid rain, air pollution and the contamination of underground water supplies.
This seems to be the most likely reality.
Pruitt’s already shown—and shown again and again and again nine more times—his distaste for any type of environmental regulation, particularly climate change.
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt made his disdain for the agency no secret. His bio page quite literally says, “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” During his time as AG, Pruitt has filed every lawsuit imaginable against the EPA, including rules on mercury pollution from coal plants; he’s tried to thwart EPA efforts to clean the Chesapeake Bay; and he’s most known for blocking President Obama’s attempts to tackle climate change. To reiterate: He’s sued the agency thirteen times.
This is also a man, who, in an op-ed for National Review said: “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” Perhaps what he forgot to mention is that literally 97 percent of scientists agree that global warming is manmade, and his argument pertains to the incredibly small three percent.
Pruitt’s anti-environment record is so outstanding that, after his nomination, 800 former EPA employees signed a letter opposing his confirmation, citing Pruitt’s ties with the Oklahoma oil and gas industry, his opposition to federal regulation of air pollution, and his history downplaying global warming. The letter “raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date and whether he agrees with the longstanding tenets of U.S. environmental law.”
The answer to those “serious questions:” It seems to be a middle finger.
His appointment is small step towards dismantling the EPA.
Pruitt’s controversial confirmation comes in the wake of allegations that government science has a become “too politicized.” Members of the administration have argued publicly that the EPA’s work on human-driven climate change is the result of the Obama administration’s liberal biases. Of course, this fails to, again, like Pruitt’s beliefs, acknowledge that 97 percent (yes, we’re posting this again) of scientists agree on human interference.
A consensus among conservative representatives is that the EPA is making bad regulatory decisions based on bad science. Yes, “bad science” is the excuse, perhaps ignoring that facts tend to have no bias.
Representative Matt Gaetz of Hollywood, Florida, believes in this “bad science” so much that the bill he recently introduced to Congress aims: “To terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.” SECTION 1. TERMINATION OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.
The purpose here is pretty fucking clear, some members in Congress hope “to terminate” the government agency tasked with guaranteeing clean air and water.
Concered? Don’t worry. The government hopes to Make the EPA great again. Of course that might be pretty fucking difficult to manage when there’s nothing left to “make great.” It’s like saying, “make coal great again…” Oh wait.
The government no longer guarantees clean air and water.
If the EPA was supposed to guarantee clean air and water, then that guarantee is already amiss. Last week, President Trump signed legislation quashing the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, a regulation aimed to protect waterways from coal mining waste.
The main complaint of the provision is that it cost miners $50 million annually to maintain.
The President’s remark, “This will eliminate another terrible job-killing rule saving many thousands of American jobs especially in the mines.”
Coal miners similarly rejoiced, with one miner, identified as “Mike,” at the Marion County Coal Company addressing the President, “President Trump, we thank you very much for everything you’ve done for us. Everything you’re doing for our industry is very much needed. I’ve been mining in this industry for 40 years and this is a very exciting time in our industry. Thank you very much.”
Of course, this won’t revitalize the coal industry at all, an industry damaged more by automation and low-cost natural gas via fracking than by environmental regulations.
Repealing the Stream Protection Rule merely fouls the streams and rivers by mine tailings. It also incentivizes the age-old mining practice of blowing off mountain tops, the main aim of the protection rule. The repeal also means more greenhouse gas pollution from burning coal. It means the numerous species, like the 50 types of freshwater mussels, that live in waters affected by mining will more than likely die. And it also opens the risk of tainted water supplies that can last centuries. In total, the rule protected some 6,000 miles of streams and 50,000 acres of forest, which are now open to more destruction.
Some claim industry can “regulate itself.” But if a history of deregulation has shown us anything, it’s that industry can’t regulate itself. Just look at West Virginia, with its extensive history with tainted water or the Wyoming town living with a contaminated water supply.
Top photo by Laurie Shaull CC BY-SA 2.0
Tom Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.