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Pick for EPA Administrator Opposed Federal Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

The Washington Post

Donald Trump’s selection to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma Attorney General, has made a career out of arguing that environmental regulation should be the responsibility of the states, not the federal government.

Here’s Pruitt testifying before a Congressional committee on why he sued President Obama’s EPA to block federal greenhouse gas regulations – one of at least seven active lawsuits Pruitt has pending against the agency he may soon be leading.

Pruitt:  “The EPA was never intended to be our nation’s foremost environmental regulator.  The states were to have regulatory primacy.  That construct –a construct put in place by this body – has been turned upside down by this administration.  That’s why I’m here today. I’d like to explain to you why I so jealously guard Oklahoma’s sovereign prerogative to regulate in both a sensible and sensitive way.”

Pruitt was so sensitive to his state’s large oil and gas industry – which donated more than $300,000 to his political campaigns – that he eliminated the Environmental Protection Unit in the Attorney General’s Office.  Pruitt cut funding for environmental law enforcement from $463,000 in 2010 — the year before he arrived — to zero dollars in 2014. 

So for Pruitt, environmental enforcement is not really a state or a federal priority.

The consequence of a poorly regulated oil and gas industry in Oklahoma have been severe.   Although earthquakes used to be rare in the state, with only one to three minor earthquakes every year before 2009, Oklahoma now experiences hundreds per year, and between one and three earthquakes per day. Geologists have concluded that the majority are linked by the oil and gas industry’s injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing into underground caverns.

Pruitt’s record in Oklahoma is one reason why Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, among many other Democrats, are highly critical of Pruitt, who will face a Senate confirmation hearing.

Here’s Cardin: “I have grave concerns about Mr. Pruitt, and I’ve expressed that. One of the fundamental tests for whether a person should be confirmed is whether that person believes in the mission of the agency in which he or she is becoming the leader of.  And in Mr. Pruitt’s case, it’s hard to believe he really believes that the Environmental Protection Agency should be there protecting the environment.”

A New York Times investigation found that Pruitt took a letter written by oil and gas industry lobbyists opposing EPA regulations, copied it word for word onto his own stationary, and sent it to EPA as the official position of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, Pruitt’s leadership of EPA could have profound consequences on the cleanup of the nation’s largest estuary.   In 2010, Pruitt filed a legal action against EPA in support of the American Farm Bureau’s lawsuit to overturn federal pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay.

That lawsuit failed.  But Pruitt’s amicus brief demonstrated that he does not support the federally-led Chesapeake Bay cleanup, which has been making progress the last five years.

Ridge Hall, a former EPA attorney and vice chairman of the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, said Pruitt’s appointment would be bad for the bay.

“He has consistently opposed air regulations, water regulations, and EPA generally,” Hall said. “So this is really a case of putting the fox in charge of the hen house.  So I hope very much that that nomination will be wither withdrawn or defeated.” 

Democrats who oppose Pruitt’s confirmation in the Senate, however, face an uphill battle – as Republicans will control the senate and will need only 51 votes to confirm Trump’s cabinet appointments.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.