It’s hard to say what’s worst about Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s choice to head the EPA. Among the choices are:
·He’s a paid shill for big oil companies who masqueraded as a public servant, i.e., the Attorney General of Oklahoma.
·He used his public office to do what big oil and other polluters wanted him to do. He sued the EPA 14 times, alleging that the agency didn’t have the right to try to restrict pollution.
·After he sued the EPA, the polluters lavished him with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, proving what the deal was all along.
·He personally dismantled Oklahoma’s environmental enforcement agency, so that his patrons in the pollution industry would not be held accountable, at least not in Pruitt’s state.
·He doesn’t believe that human beings have played a role in global warming/climate change, contradicting every serious scientist who has looked at the issue.
·Pruitt used his Attorney General’s office to hide from the public his email communications with the top executives of big oil and other polluters.
Let’s pause on this last one for a moment to fully comprehend what kind of person we are talking about here: As Attorney General, Pruitt had some 4,000 email communications with the top executives of big industry polluters about how they wanted Pruitt to use his Attorney General’s office for their benefit and profit. Pruitt wrote and received these emails on a taxpayer-funded computer, typically from his taxpayer-funded government office, while being paid a salary by the taxpayers. These emails, therefore, belong to the public who funded them. They are public records. Yet, when Pruitt was requested to provide these public records to the public who owns them–via the Freedom of Information Act–he refused. In some cases, for almost 2 years. And guess who the lawyer was who went to court to fight against the public release of those 4,000 emails? None other than Scott Pruitt himself, Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma.
So, the people of Oklahoma paid Pruitt to email back and forth with polluters about how he could use his public office to help the polluters, and jeopardize the people’s environment and health, and then paid Pruitt again to try to keep the emails secret from them.
A judge in Oklahoma, Aletia Timmons, just last week ordered the emails to be released to the public. Judge Timmons had enough of Pruitt’s attempts to keep public records secret from the public. In ordering the records to be released, Timmons said that there had been “an abject failure to provide prompt and reasonable access to documents requested.” In other words, according to the judge, Pruitt had been stonewalling. The records will be made public any day now, per Judge Timmons’ order. Then we will begin to see what Pruitt didn’t want the public to see. Unfortunately, it will be too late.
This same Scott Pruitt–who used his public trust to help the big polluters who financed him, and then used his public trust to keep secret his relationship with them– has just been confirmed as the EPA’s new chief. He is now in charge of executing President Trump’s plan to “get rid” of the EPA “in almost every form”. I will say this for Trump: if his goal was to screw over the tens of millions of Americans who depend on the clean air and water laws that the EPA enforces, he could not have picked a better man than Pruitt. I will also say this for Pruitt: he hid the 4,000 emails long enough so that they would not derail his takeover at the EPA.
Those who cheer these developments are either ignorant or employed by polluters. No one in their right mind who understands what the EPA does would want to “get rid” of it, or would want Pruitt having anything to do with it.
Much of the discussion about the damage Pruitt will do at the EPA has focused on Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan”, which mandates that, by 2030, carbon emissions from coal-fired plants be reduced by 30%. The EPA studied these emissions for more than a decade and concluded that, in addition to contributing to global warming, emissions are threatening the lives and health of more than 100,000 Americans. Naturally, Pruitt is opposed to any restriction in these emissions and plans to dismantle the Clean Power Plan now that he is in charge of the agency (EPA) that is supposed to enforce it.
But, for as bad as this is, the wrecking ball that Pruitt and Trump intend to take to EPA will damage far more than the Clean Power Plan. It is alarming to think about all of the ways that Pruitt–executing Trump’s plan to “get rid” of the EPA–is going to do real damage to Americans’ health. Here is what we are about to lose:
·EPA determining what chemicals are dangerous. The EPA investigates the health effects of far more than power plant emissions. It was the EPA, for example, that determined that trichloroethylene (“TCE”)–the principal contaminant in many of the contamination cases I personally work on– is far more dangerous to human health that we first believed.
·EPA testing for toxic chemicals in water, air, and soil. In most of the situations I have encountered in the last 17+ years that I have practiced as an environmental lawyer when there was testing done to discover if people were threatened by chemicals dumped years earlier by polluters, it was the EPA that did the testing or forced the polluter to do it.
·EPA researching new ways that we may be hurt by pollution. It was the EPA that recognized that certain toxic chemicals contaminating sub-surface groundwater turn into a “vapor” that can migrate upwards, and “intrude” into the air that people are breathing in homes and offices sitting just above the groundwater. As a result, we are now alert throughout the nation for the threat of “vapor intrusion”.
·EPA warning the people that there are dangerous chemicals in their environment. When the EPA learns that families are threatened by the chemicals dumped years earlier–because those chemicals have turned up in testing of the air, water or soil in a neighborhood, for example–it is the EPA that warns the families so that they can take steps to protect themselves.
·EPA protecting the people. When it determines that people are threatened by contaminated water coming into their homes, or contamination “intruding” into the air that people breathe in their homes, it is the EPA that provides (or forces the polluter to provide) bottled water as a safe, temporary source of water for the home, or the installation of a “vapor mitigation system”, to keep the contaminated gasses out of the home.
·EPA making polluters clean up contamination. When contamination is discovered, it is often the EPA that forces the polluter to take steps to clean it up.
·EPA being transparent. When the EPA is doing an investigation to see if contamination has occurred, or is making a polluter protect people it has threatened, or clean up its contamination, the EPA makes its work public information. The EPA will typically post on its website all of the records its work is generating, and an explanation of what it is finding, and how concerned the public should be about it. The EPA also typically files documents about its work at a public library near the site where it is working, so that those most affected by the contamination and the EPA’s efforts to address it do not have to go far to examine the details of all of it.
And why will Trump and Pruitt make sure we lose these things? Because these are the things that the EPA does which not only protect human health, but also make it more expensive for polluters to pollute. As he showed when he was the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt’s idea is that the purpose of public office–be it Attorney General of a state or head of the EPA–is to make it easier for polluters to pollute, and get away with it…..and that it’s none of the people’s business to find out about what he is doing while he is doing it. That is why Donald Trump picked him for the job.