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Thomas Schueneman headshot

The EPA Under Scott Pruitt: What Will it be Like?


Today, two days before Donald Trump ascends to the presidency, Scott Pruitt will face his Senate confirmation hearing to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr. Pruitt is now halfway through his second term as Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma. TriplePundit spoke with Johnson Bridgewater, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, about a potential EPA under Pruitt. Bridgewater has been up close and personal with Pruitt's blatant anti-environmental agenda.

"As soon as Pruitt came into office, he disbanded what was established as the Environmental Protection Unit," Bridgewater says. Established by Pruitt's predecessor, the unit was "tasked with working on environmental issues in the state of Oklahoma." The unit investigated issues such as illegal dumping, water contamination and oil refining.

"Since he has been in office, we are unaware of any major environmental issues he has taken on," Bridgewater says.

At first blush, it may seem odd that a man with a clear record of disinterest in environmental issues should be chosen to steer the EPA. But 'disinterest' is likely not the right word. As Bridgewater illustrates, Pruitt took an active interest in overturning environmental protections already in the works.

Chicken parts

When Pruitt took office, a years-long, hard-fought lawsuit brought by the state of Oklahoma against the state of Arkansas and the poultry industry was well underway. The suit alleged that Arkansas-based poultry operations had dumped poultry waste into the Illinois River Basin, as much as 345,000 tons of the stuff annually for years. Arkansas poultry farms were "basically polluting the entire watershed of eastern Oklahoma."
"Mr. Pruitt took that lawsuit out of action," Bridgewater recalls, instead "requesting a study."

Not only that, many of Pruitt's biggest donors for 2010 campaign for Attorney General came from the same poultry interests named in the original lawsuit.

The single largest environmental pollution case in the state, potentially impacting the water for thousands of Oklahoma residents, was thus shelved. No environmental oversight needed. But just in case, we'll study the issue, Pruitt concluded. If the study does amount to anything, any restriction on poultry waste dumping will be voluntary.

What I say, not what I do

Pruitt claimed that he did not support "regulation through litigation." And yet as Attorney General in Oklahoma, he sued the federal government and the EPA 14 times, in an apparent attempt to litigate regulation, Bridgewater explains.
"That someone who has sued the federal government 14 times to claim regulation by litigation isn't appropriate is absolutely laughable," Bridgewater says.

Feel the Earth move

Harold Hamm is president of Oklahoma-based Continental Resources, the self-avowed "America's oil champion."  Hamm is perhaps best known as a pioneer of fracking as we know it today. "He is credited," Bridgewater says, "[with] inventing and spreading modern horizontal fracking across both Oklahoma and the United States."

With the fracking boom came a rumble -- specifically, the rumble of earthquakes. "The 21,000 earthquakes that we have had in the last six years [are] very clearly linked to the process of fracking and the oil and gas production that has resulted from it," Bridgewater says.

In response to the growing crisis, the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General has been "completely silent."

The connection

Harold Hamm served as an advisor for the Trump campaign and was considered Trump's top choice for Energy Secretary. (Hamm turned it down.)

What is less well known about Hamm is his role as the manager of Scott Pruitt's re-election campaign in 2014. Led by Hamm's Continental Resources, the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma funded as much as a third of Pruitt's campaign war chest.

For Bridgewater, this speaks to Pruitt's willingness to "bend over backward" in remuneration for his close financial ties to oil and gas interests.

"It's that blatant,"says Bridegwater. "... There is a very clear series of relationships that exist."

It is a straight line, therefore, from Trump to Hamm to Pruitt. And considering the rhetoric from Trump on energy and climate throughout his campaign, what better choice could there be?

Got science?

Pruitt is on record claiming that the "science behind climate change is not settled," and poses no significant risk. Despite all the connections, campaigns donations and lax, if any, environmental regulation, this is the "fundamental problem" for Bridgewater.
"We are most concerned over the simple fact that Scott Pruitt doesn't see climate change as a problem."

"We see climate change as the greatest environmental catastrophe that is currently underway," Bridgewater says, "and we see the EPA as the most likely way for the United States to make headway on climate change."

Putting someone who does not believe in climate change in charge of the very agency best equipped to deal with what is, in fact, accepted science is the core argument against Pruitt's nomination to head the EPA.

To drive the point home, Bridgewater emphasizes that Pruitt would be the first non-scientist EPA administrator.

The EPA under Pruitt

To understand how the EPA will function under Scott Pruitt's leadership is simply a matter of looking at his record.

"A model for how we would expect the EPA to work is basically to stand aside and let any and all energy extraction processes to move forward regardless of what appear to be the negative consequences," Bridgewater says.

It is a sad irony that Pruitt may well run the EPA.

"If you just look at the facts alone, it is very clear that he backs industry over environmental issues."

Bridgewater hopes senators understand the critical role the EPA plays in protecting our nation's environmental resources (as the agency's name implies). He calls on Congress to consider also the responsibility the agency has safeguarding the health of Americans and promoting the nation's leadership in the new energy economy.

And Pruitt, Bridgewater insists, is not the man for the job.

Image  credit: Gage Skidmore, courtesy Flickr

Thomas Schueneman headshot

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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