Scott Pruitt has been picked to head the US Environmental Protection Agency. An attorney general from Oklahoma, Pruitt is an unapologetic climate change denier with close ties to the oil industry. He’s expected to attempt to roll back Obama’s climate policies and economic regulations. John Dyer reports from Boston.
Scott Pruitt is keenly familiar with the climate policies of the outgoing president Barack Obama. As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt has been leading a five-year-long legal battle against Obama’s efforts to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants, regulate fracking and other measures to curb greenhouse gases and combat climate change.
Pruitt argues that these policies are killing jobs and preventing economic growth.
EPA defending Obama’s policies in court
In President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, Pruitt is now slated to become the top environmental defender in the country. And as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt will be running the office that has been defending – and at times successfully – Obama’s measures in court.
But while Obama’s climate policies are designed to prevent or mitigate climate change, the new EPA head Pruitt has expressed doubts as to whether climate change even exists at all.
Nomination all but assured
“My administration strongly believes in environmental protection, and Scott Pruitt will be a powerful advocate for that mission while promoting jobs, safety and opportunity,” said Trump in a statement in Thursday announcing Pruitt’s nomination for the EPA position.
With his confirmation in the Republican-controlled senate all but assured next year, the 48-year-old Pruitt’s ascension to EPA administrator could spell a 180-degree turnaround for American policies on climate change.
Pruitt has already said that he would eliminate unnecessary environmental rules that prevent businesses from growing and hiring.
“The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses,” said a Trump transition team statement.
Trump’s mixed messages on the environment
A New York real estate magnate and ex-reality television celebrity, Trump has sent out mixed messages on his views concerning climate change.
On the campaign trail for the Republican Party nomination, where candidates often exaggerated to win over party stalwarts with extreme views, Trump described human-induced global warming as a hoax, pledged to rip up the Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions and blasted Democrats for boosting solar and wind power at the expense of coal.
But more recently the President-elect has appeared more amendable to efforts to fight climate change.
Trump’s most trusted confidant, his daughter Ivanka, has spoken about the dangers of global warming. Earlier this week, Trump held a high-profile meeting with the former vice president and Nobel prize-winning environmentalist Al Gore. He even admitted in a New York Times interview that he sees “connectivity” between greenhouse gases and rising world temperatures.
Staunch climate change denier
But Pruitt’s appointment settles any questions about where Trump stands. A staunch ally of his state’s energy producers, Pruitt is a staunch climate change denier.
“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in the conservative National Review magazine in May. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”
Environmentalists are horrified.
“Scott Pruitt running the EPA is like the fox guarding the hen house,” said League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski. “Time and again, he has fought to pad the profits of big polluters at the expense of public health.
The incoming leader of the minority Democrats in the US senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, pledged to mount a vigorous vetting of Pruitt during the nomination process. It’s not clear, however, if the Democrats would be willing to expend the political capital necessary to block him completely.
“Pruitt’s reluctance to accept the facts or science on climate change couldn’t make him any more out of touch with the American people – and with reality,” said Schumer.
As was expected, the energy industry applauded Trump’s choice. Jeffrey McDougall, chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said: “His appointment will put rational and reasonable regulation at the forefront.”