Illustration: DonkeyHotey / Flickr
Scott Pruitt was always a dubious choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Formerly the attorney general of Oklahoma, he made a name for himself by suing the EPA 14 times in an effort to undermine Obama-era regulations unfavorable to big polluters.
But his conflicts of interest — which, frankly, are no secret — were finally laid bare earlier this week when his former office released a bombshell: Thousands of pages of emails that prove he’s a lackey of the fossil-fuel industry. The emails, which Pruitt had been withholding, were turned over only after the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) successfully sued him for violating the Open Records Act.
The evidence within is damning. Mounds of correspondence reveal a disturbing, yearslong trend of shamelessly cozying up to the oil and gas industries, which have donated more than $300,000 to his campaigns since 2002. Energy companies routinely sent Pruitt talking points and letters, which he sometimes reproduced on official letterhead and sent to federal regulators at the EPA. There were secret meetings with fossil-fuel executives to brainstorm deregulation tactics. The emails even exposed connections to the nefarious Koch Brothers, titans of oil, gas and coal who supported Pruitt’s nomination.
Democrats had requested that Pruitt’s confirmation vote be delayed until the emails were released and reviewed, but Republicans demurred, choosing instead to hasten the process. Now we know why.
The EPA’s mission is a simple one: “To protect human health and the environment.” But the evidence shows Scott Pruitt is playing for the other team, working closely with the fossil-fuel industry to dismantle regulations unfriendly to its pernicious business model. In doing so, he has shown a willingness to jeopardize public health and desecrate the environment — characteristics that disqualify him from running the EPA.
If President Trump really cares about America’s land, water and air — as he’s claimed he does — he’d demand Pruitt’s resignation. But he won’t. There’s too much work to do, and that work involves gutting the EPA of its regulatory powers in order to help Big Oil, Big Gas and Big Agriculture operate unfettered.
There are sensible areas of compromise that allow for much-needed environmental protections and take climate change into consideration without stifling economic growth. The “Conservative Climate Solution,” which was drafted mostly by high-ranking cabinet members from past Republican administrations, is one example. Simply repealing every rule unfavorable to the industries the EPA is charged with regulating is nonsensical and outside the bounds of the agency’s mission.
More importantly, the American people deserve more from the administrator of the EPA than an enemy of the environment and an unapologetic shill for the fossil-fuel industry. Even the agency’s career staffers opposed his nomination.
If President Trump won’t demand his resignation, Pruitt should offer it himself. More batches of emails are set to be released and the narrative is unlikely to change: The EPA’s greatest enemy is now its leader.