New EPA Administrator Has Close Ties to Senate Environment Leadership

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, is a familiar face around the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. He testified in a subcommittee hearing as recently as last year examining the legal impact of the Clean Power Plan, regulation issued by the EPA requiring states to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 30% by 2030.

Mr. Pruitt, who prior to his new EPA role was Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, has been involved in efforts to combat both the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which he argues overreaches the agency’s Clean Air Act enforcement authority, and the Waters of the U.S. rule, which he characterized as an attack on private property rights.

In his May 5th, 2015 testimony, Mr. Pruitt laid out his line of thinking, claiming that “the EPA does not possess the authority under the Clean Air Act to do what it is seeking to accomplish in the so-called Clean Power Plan.”

In glowing testimonials triumphantly issued by the Transition’s Public Relations department he was praised by a variety of figures for these actions.

Included was a statement from the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, and fellow Oklahoman, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) who called Mr Pruitt “a leader and a partner on environmental issues for many years,” as well as commen him for fighting “back against unconstitutional and overzealous environmental regulations like Waters of the U.S. and the Clean Power Plan.”  The two also coauthored an opinion piece published in the Tulsa World in 2015 outlining their joint efforts to oppose the Clean Power Plan at the state and federal levels.

In a February 2015 Joint Hearing with the House Transportation Committee examining the Waters of the USA Act, Mr. Inhofe called Pruitt a “best friend” while introducing him. Pruitt then testified that the implementation of the act would “strike a blow to private property rights” and called the rule a “naked power grab by the EPA.”

Pruitt repeats often that Washington views states as “vessels of federal will,” a stance he’s firmly against. Part of the thrust of his argument against the EPA using its authority to regulate water and air quality is his interpretation of EPA legislation giving states the power to create their own plans for oversight. However, the EPA is empowered to step in and regulate if states present plans the agency finds insufficient, and to enforce in the absence of state-level efforts to do so.

The agency under Pruitt will likely step back from these powers and adopt a policy of non-intervention, leaving states free to adopt diluted plans, especially concerning CO2 emissions; it’s not likely the EPA will take a robust enforcement role. Coupled with Senator Inhofe keeping his chairmanship of the committee, and continued Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the Trump Administration’s environmental policy will hew closely to the efforts put forward by Senate Republicans during the Obama years, but now with the explicit endorsement of the agency that had previously been their greatest enemy.

by Marlon J. Ettinger