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Lawsuits Brew Against Scott Pruitt, EPA for Illegal Legislative 'Obstructions'

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Leadership & Transparency
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Few if any of  President Donald Trump's appointees have stirred up as much controversy as Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new administrator.

In March, the Oklahoma Bar Association launched an investigation into whether Pruitt lied under oath during his confirmation hearing for the position. According to a compliant the Bar is investigating, Pruitt allegedly lied when he told senators he never used a personal email address to conduct business during his tenure as Oklahoma's attorney general.

An Oklahoma judge ordered the EPA to turn over thousands of pages of communication between Pruitt and representatives of the fossil fuel industry.

He has also been taken to task for his views on climate change. Pruitt admitted to reporters earlier this year that he does "not agree" that human activity is a "primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

Still, a divided Congress speedily confirmed Pruitt, prompting some to suggest that his confirmation had been rushed through in anticipation of a ballooning investigation.

This month, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) added a couple of lawsuits to the list of challenges facing Pruitt's embattled administration. The first and most interesting is a suit alleging that Pruitt is "obstructing environmental laws on behalf of the [oil and gas] industry" by not finalizing deadlines for the District of Columbia and city of Philadelphia to meet environmental laws backing clean air standards. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to establish "national ambient air quality standards, the Center said.

"But more than eight years later, it has failed to finalize deadlines to ensure that Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia have reduced ozone pollution to healthy levels," the Center said in a May 3 press release.

In February, Pruitt pledged to impose new limits on the EPA's enforcement of clean air and water rules. He defended the decision by stating that the courts had already "called into question the legality of those laws." There are many who would disagree.

Still, latest developments suggest that Pruitt's already figured a two-prong mechanism for crippling the federal mandate to regulate pollution and carbon emissions. The first is the 14 lawsuits he launched against the EPA as attorney general of Oklahoma (according to the Environmental Defense Fund and the New York Times, all but one were filed in cooperation with industry donors.

The second is his plan to disable clean environment laws as the EPA's administrator before those lawsuits finish winding through the courts.

According to the CBD, lawyers for the EPA told an appeals judge recently that the agency is considering rolling the Clean Air Act to the 2008 benchmark, rather than enforcing current standards.

The EPA is also being sued by the CBD for failing to comply with a court's order to turn over public documents. The CED is alleging that the emails and Pruitt's daily itinerary will reveal that he has been "hiding" controversial meetings with oil and gas execs.

The Center has sued the Trump administration more than 11 times since Trump took office, joining partnership with farmers and environmental groups to challenge actions  that the CBD says puts communities at risk. The CBD and advocates will have a tough battle ahead with a White House administration that believes fervently that denying the existence of climate change is enough justification to wipe out environmental laws. The question is how the nation will pick up the pieces both environmentally and financially when the Trump administration is finished with its mandate of dismantling the protections Americans have come to count on.

Image credit: Flickr/Nasa Goodard Space Center

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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