“You know a man by the company he keeps.” That’s what the Ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, said a long time ago. The expression has survived until today because it makes sense: we all know that there is a lot to be learned about someone by seeing the friends he/she chooses.
If Aesop was right, then environmental protection in the United States is in big trouble. That’s because President-elect Trump has chosen as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency one of the very best friends of the biggest polluter in the world, the oil and gas industry. His name is Scott Pruitt. He’s currently the attorney general of the oil and gas industry-controlled State of Oklahoma. In that job, Pruitt has behaved as though he’s one of the largest stockholders of Exxon Mobile. For example, he has:
· Sued to block the Clean Water Rule, which is meant to ensure safe drinking water sources.
· Gone to court to stop the “Clean Power Plan”, EPA’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired plants.
· Tried to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity-like coal-fired plants-is causing the planet to warm to a dangerous degree. “That debate is far from settled”, Pruitt said (in a spectacularly false statement), adding that: “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
· Fought the setting of health-protective air pollution standards.
· Boasted that he is a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
“Activist agenda?” That’s news to the hundreds of thousands of American citizens whose property and health are threatened every year by big corporate polluters, and by an EPA that takes far too long to do its job to protect them. I’ve been an environmental lawyer for more than 15 years, suing corporate polluters. My experience with the EPA is that, with very rare exceptions, it moves way too slowly. In most of my cases, EPA has been involved for many years-even decades–with the contaminated property that is threatening the families living in nearby homes. What I usually see is that EPA does very little (sometimes nothing) to protect the people, and often does not even make sure that the families know what the problem is, so that they can protect themselves, since EPA won’t. If you walked into one of these towns and didn’t know what EPA was supposed to stand for, you might conclude from the agency’s behavior that it was a spokesperson for the polluter.
Truth: there’s very little that is activist about the EPA that I know…in fact, the far greater threat to our health and environment is that EPA is not nearly activist enough. And that’s what you’d think if you were one of the families whose children were drinking contaminated water or breathing contaminated air. If you were one of them, you would want the most activist EPA possible. You’d want an EPA that came charging over the hill to make you and your children safe, using the full weight of its lawful power to figure out ASAP who the polluter is and make that company clean it up.
But if you were Exxon Mobile, or some other huge oil and gas company that would prefer to pollute without having to clean it up-either at all, or on a timetable that actually protected people’s health-an EPA like that would seem dangerous to you. You would label that EPA an “activist”, smear their life-protecting regulations as “destroying jobs”, and go to court as often as possible to keep EPA from doing its job, and holding polluters accountable.
Which brings us back to Scott Pruitt.
This is what people who spend their lives fighting for a safer environment say about Pruitt:
· “By filing suit to overturn the Clean Water Rule, Scott Pruitt called into question his commitment to protecting clean water for every American,” Bob Irvin, president of the American Rivers advocacy group.
· “Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the [EPA] is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
· “Every American should be appalled” by Pruitt’s nomination. Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice.
· Pruitt is a “dangerous and unqualified choice” to head EPA and an “agent of the oil and gas industry.” Eric Schneiderman, attorney general, State of New York.
· “Pruitt has a record of attacking the environmental protections that EPA is charged with enforcing. He has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection.” Fred Krupp, president, Environmental Defense Fund.
· Pruitt has used his position to try to “deny Americans the benefits of reducing mercury, arsenic and other toxins from the air we breathe; cutting smog that can cause asthma attacks, and protecting our wetlands and streams.” Rhea Suh, president, Natural Resources Defense Council.
That’s the guy who will soon be in charge of making sure that we have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe. The biggest polluter’s best friend.
It’s not a surprise that companies that pollute for a living and resist like hell having to clean it up would believe that EPA doing anything other than sleeping on the job is “activist”. What is a surprise, however, is that someone who thinks like that will now be in charge of the EPA.