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Scott Pruitt Forgot Something in His First Address as EPA Head: The Environment

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Leadership & Transparency
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This week Scott Pruitt gave his first address as the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Strikingly absent from his speech: the environment. He barely mentioned it. Instead, he talked about being excited to be in a city with a Major League Baseball team, while thanking long-time employees of the agency. 

Pruitt did take time to discuss regulations, saying they “ought to make things regular” and that “regulators exist to give certainty to those that they regulate.”

He went on to say the EPA should “try to avoid ... abuses that occur sometimes," while targeting guidance and regulation through “litigation [and] consent decrees that actually bypass the Administrator’s Procedures Act.”

Those remarks makes sense when taken into account with statements Pruitt made a few minutes later about the Congress being “very specific on what we can and cannot do as an agency." He said the EPA needs to “respect that” and “avoid litigation.” The current Congress is headed by Republicans and is unlikely to support any of the EPA’s rules made under former President Barack Obama.

Pruitt’s first address as the EPA’s head echoes his Senate confirmation hearing. In his opening remarks to the Senate, Pruitt made it clear that as head of the EPA he would ensure that the agency “has a cooperative and collaborative relationship with Congress in fulfilling its intent.” In other words, say critics: The EPA under his leadership will be little more than a rubber-stamp agency for the Congress and will not take the initiative to actually protect the nation’s air, water and land.

In Pruitt's lone mention of the environment, he said the EPA “can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment” and doesn’t have to “choose between the two.” That's true, say many analysts, including this 3p contributor. But what he failed to realize is that being pro-fossil fuel energy and being pro-environment are mutually exclusive. The burning of fossil fuels is largely responsible for climate change. And places like California, which recently went from one of the worst droughts in American history to deluge, are already experiencing the impacts of it.

Pruitt's cozy relationship with fossil fuel companies

Pruitt sued the very agency he is now running 14 times as the state attorney general for Oklahoma.

In one such lawsuit, Pruitt and several other states sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy that is meant to reduce the electricity sector’s pollution.

That really should not come as a surprise considering the treasure trove of emails -- 7,500 pages in total -- which were made public after the Senate confirmed Pruitt to head the EPA.

Most of the emails were sent by Pruitt’s staff in 2013 and 2014, Politico reported this week. Some reveal that a 2013 letter Pruitt sent to the EPA was written almost entirely by Bill Whitsitt, former executive vice president for public affairs for Devon Energy.

Several emails sent back and forth by Pruitt and Devon Energy staff were released this week. The recipients included Whitsitt, who sent a draft of Pruitt's aforementioned letter that was sent to then-EPA head Lisa Jackson.

The draft letter stated that the EPA “may be very significantly overestimating methane emissions from natural gas production.” It came as a response to a petition from Northeastern states who wanted stricter methane regulations. Whitsitt wrote that the letter “would be a shot across the bow, warning EPA not to go down a negotiated-rulemaking or wink-at-sue-and-settle tee-up process.”

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed an Open Records Act request and then a lawsuit to have the emails made public, although they didn't see the light of day until after Pruitt was confirmed.

Other emails discovered as a result of the CMD’s request and lawsuit include communications between the oil and gas lobby group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. In 2013 the AFPM “coordinated opposition" to the Renewable Fuel Standard Program and ozone limits with Pruitt’s office, the Center said.

The Center went on to allege that the trade group gave Pruitt a template for an Oklahoma petition against the RFS, stating that “this argument is more credible coming from a State.” Pruitt filed opposition to the RFS and ozone limits later that week.

Many EPA staff were not thrilled with Pruitt's address. A current EPA staffer who has worked at the agency for over 20 years told Mother Jones that Pruitt did not mention “one word about public health.” The person added that Pruitt was “condescending and hypocritical.”

And it is also likely that the staff is not thrilled with Pruitt’s cozy relationship to the oil and gas industry. The American people should also not be thrilled for many analysts indicate that under his leadership the EPA will not protect their health from environmental pollution but will sit idly by while fossil fuel companies pollute the air and water.

Image credit: EPA

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman