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Pruitt as microcosm of the GOP

pruitt-epa-head

This post can be read as a follow-up to “Heil to the Drumpf.”

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Scott Pruitt, like so many other recent nominees to President Donald Trump’s cabinet — easily the most unqualified set of selections in American history — simply isn’t fit to govern in the capacity he has been chosen. Not only is he unfit, he holds views that are antithetical to the EPA’s mission of protecting human well-being by being good stewards of our environmental resources and guarding against pollution and unregulated, potentially hazardous real estate and commercial development.

Lowered expectations

trumps-cabinet

Consider some of his vastly more experienced predecessors likewise nominated by Republican presidents (“acting” administrators not included):

  • Russell Train (1973-77): Train was founder of the Wildlife Leadership Foundation, first vice president of the World Wildlife Fund and president of The Conservation Foundation. Before being named as EPA director under President Richard Nixon’s, and later serving under Gerald Ford when Nixon resigned, he was under secretary of the Department of Interior, and between 1970-73, he headed up the Council on Environmental Quality. According to The New York Times, “Mr. Train developed the idea of establishing the Council on Environmental Quality, a policy office within the White House. He also helped persuade the Nixon administration to create the Environmental Protection Agency, empowered to execute and regulate the nation’s new program of safeguarding natural resources and protecting public health.”
  • William K. Reilly (1989-93): Working on urban beautification earlier in his career, Reilly followed Train as president of The Conservation Foundation, and he was a senior staff member of the Council on Environmental Quality. He was also president of the World Wildlife Fund before assuming his EPA cabinet post under George H.W. Bush.
  • Stephen L. Johnson (2005-09): The first scientist to lead the EPA, Johnson has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in pathology. Before becoming head of the agency, he worked there for 26 years.

Of course, GOP presidents have also named a handful of people who either had limited or no experience in conservation upon accepting the administration position but still made modest gains or paid lip service to the ultimate goal of protecting the environment. They include:

  • Anne Burford (1981-83), who had a background in law, seems to have mainly been nominated into the agency to work on deregulation and clean up government waste under Ronald Reagan. From an EPA standpoint after taking the post, her greatest claim to fame was passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. She resigned in 1983 over the alleged mismanagement of a $1.6 billion hazardous waste dumping program.
  • William Ruckelshaus (1983-85): Serving under Nixon as the EPA’s first administrator, Ruckelshaus is perhaps best known for his ban on DDT.
  • Christine Todd Whitman (2001-03) didn’t seem to have much experience in the environment or conservation before 2000, but in that year as governor of New Jersey, the state’s standard for air quality went from 45 in 1988 to 4, and New Jersey was honored as having rolled out the most exhaustive beach monitoring program in the nation.
  • Under his leadership in the George W. Bush administration, EPA head Mike Leavitt (2003-05) raised emission standards, and he instituted a plan to address environmental concerns along the Great Lakes.
  • Lee Thomas (1985-89) had a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in education, of all things. He served as assistant administrator of the EPA’s solid waste and emergency division for a little more than a year, and he was assistant director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 1981-83. As head of the EPA, he is most notable for overseeing passage of the Montreal Protocol, a plan to scale back production of ozone-depleting chemicals in the air. Thomas went on to become president and chief operating officer of Georgia Pacific Corporation, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Starting in 2007, he was chairman and chief executive officer of Rayonier, which buys up land to make paper and timberland-based materials and also uses the land, of course, for commercial and real estate development.
Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times/Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, is President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times/Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, is President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

The difference with most of these people and Pruitt, is that our current administrator not only lacks experience to head the EPA, he does not believe in the imperishable and urgent nature of its mission, and before taking office, he actively fought against environmental protections and regulations as attorney general of Oklahoma.

Dubbed a “lifetime adversary” of the EPA by The Washington Post, Pruitt had assumed an adversarial role against the EPA nearly since the beginning of his election as Oklahoma’s top law enforcement officer in 2010.

The anti-green AG

According to The New York Times and state media sources, Oklahoma had been embroiled in a legal fight against the poultry industry since 2006 stemming from alleged pollution of chicken manure into the Illinois River, but when Pruitt took office, instead of stiffening regulations or pushing for corrective mandates against Tyson, he merely initiated a study to look at the issue, which, in effect, kicked the can down the road, even as he had received $40,000 from the defendants in the case as part of his 2010 campaign.

This, of course, is largely indicative of Pruitt’s track record across the four campaigns of his public career. According to FollowTheMoney.org, he has raised more than $3 million from various industry sectors. The energy and natural resources industry was Pruitt’s third largest contributor. Here’s the breakdown of how much money Pruitt has received from each industry:

Credit: FollowTheMoney.org

Credit: FollowTheMoney.org

Clearly, conflicts of interests abound, but if Pruitt was able to own up to his past transgressions and apologize for failing to hold Tyson accountable for potentially damaging the environment at the expense of his own constituents and at the expense of the environment, perhaps the nation could accept him as halfway sincere and competent, but this isn’t even the worse of it.

As Eric Schaeffer, Environmental Integrity Project executive director, said in a recent op-ed piece, Pruitt essentially made his bones standing as firmly as anyone can against the EPA as attorney general, suing the agency no less than 14 times while in Oklahoma.

Here is how Schaeffer assessed Pruitt’s environmental record before his cabinet confirmation:

(Pruitt) has built his career suing the agency he would oversee to roll back its protection of the nation’s air and water, and challenging the very idea of federal action to control pollution.

At the same time, while Mr. Pruitt preaches the gospel of states’ rights, his record suggests he has been far from aggressive in enforcing environmental laws in his own state. Given his anti-regulatory mind-set, skepticism about global warming and support from the industries he would regulate, the Senate, which is set to begin to consider his nomination on Wednesday, should reject him (It didn’t. My note).

His tenure in Oklahoma is instructive. Mr. Pruitt disbanded the environmental protection unit in the attorney general’s office and created a “federalism unit” to litigate against “overreach by the federal government.” Much of that overreach, in Mr. Pruitt’s view, was by the E.P.A.

Much like new U.S. Housing and Urban Development head Ben Carson, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Mr. Let’s Close the — Department of … Hmm what’s the third one there? I think it starts with an “E” … Department of Entertainment … No. … Ahh, shucks. I can’t (name) the third one. Sorry. Oops. — Rick Perry, Pruitt doesn’t believe in the mission of the agency he has been charged to run. He says it right there on his LinkedIn page:

Scott filed the first lawsuit challenging the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, is a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda, and is leading a multistate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Dodd-Frank financial law. Before being elected AG, he served eight years in the Oklahoma State Senate where he was a leading voice for fiscal responsibility, religious freedom and pro-life issues.

See anything in there about a concern for the environment or conservation issues? Me either. Here’s more information on Pruitt’s illustrious body of work in Oklahoma.

Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, said that in assessing Pruitt’s potential acumen as an EPA director:

It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile E.P.A. administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.

No debate

Even more stunning than Pruitt’s persistent fights against the EPA in Oklahoma are his views on climate change. They are well-documented by now. The following quote comes from an interview on MSNBC after Pruitt’s nomination:

I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. … But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.

In one fell swoop, Pruitt, despite the fact that Exxon, to its own chagrin, discovered the realities of climate change four decades ago (!), continues to perpetuate the myth that human activity might not be responsible for lower carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, rising seas, melting icecaps and increased temperatures globally. Much like the evidence for evolution, the evidence for global warming and human-induced climate change is overwhelming (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on …) such that there is no debate, and there hasn’t been for a very long time.

Pruitt and his other equally unqualified, motley crew of cabinet members may be capable of shuffling some papers around and telling subordinates what to do, but within the fields they are charged to oversee, with few exceptions, they are ill-informed, conceited and flippant about the important work with which they have been charged.

Indeed, that these people could be directly in the ear of the most powerful person in the world is disconcerting, especially since we are only a couple months into the administration, and that they so easily passed GOP muster via the nominations, despite their own incompetency being laid bare in multiple hearings, represents a deeply reckless, unadulterated clutching at power for power’s sake with no thought about the future of the nation.

Surely only the most cynical view of our republic is keeping these people from crawling into a cave and never being heard from again.

But here they are. I don’t peddle fear-mongering here, as the Republicans do, so just as they have a freedom to say and believe any nonsense they choose, we also have the right to call them out — again and again, for as long as it takes — for their blatant anti-intellectualism and disregard for scientific facts and Enlightenment principles, principles that always have, and always will, move our civil society forward and toward a more perfect union.

[Cover image credit: “Elephant Parade” by DeviantArt user Eredel.]

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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