When it comes to the well-being of people and the planet, perhaps no appointment in the current administration is more important than that of Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is responsible for protecting our air, water, and land and for implementing appropriate plans to address the existential threat of climate change.
The Trump administration’s “An America First Energy Plan” is in reality “A Fossil Fuel First Energy Plan,” and it reads as if it were written by executives of oil, gas, and coal companies; which is very likely the case. It is also becoming increasingly clear that this administration plans to cut environmental regulations across the board, using the justification that such measures are needed to boost the economy. It makes sense that an administration that takes its energy policy cues directly from fossil fuel companies and its direction for environmental regulations in general from entities such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Those of us in Oklahoma know that Pruitt is no stranger to taking his cues and direction from the fossil fuel industry, and he is no stranger to saying and writing things that sound like they come directly from its executives. On at least one occasion we know that Attorney General Pruitt sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency arguing that the agency was overestimating methane emissions. The letter was signed by Pruitt and printed on the letterhead of the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General, but 97% of the letter was exactly the same as a letter presented to him by Oklahoma based Devon Energy. He simply cut and paste the vast majority of the letter to make Devon’s case to the EPA.
The Devon letter is symbolic and representative of a clear pattern in Scott Pruitt’s work as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. When it comes to the fossil fuel companies from which he has been the recipient of much political and financial support, Pruitt is passionate and proactive in his pursuit of the protection of their interests. However, when it comes to protecting the environment and people from the negative effects of the fossil fuel industry and other industries for that matter, Pruitt is passive and silent at best and actively antagonistic at worst.
Upon entering the Office of the Attorney General of Oklahoma in 2010, Mr. Pruitt dismantled the office’s environmental protection unit. Pruitt later sued the EPA to stop the Clean Power Plan to protect fossil fuel interests, and he has sued the EPA in relation to a host of issues and regulations over a dozen times during his tenure. In contrast, he has been totally unengaged with advocating on behalf of the thousands of Oklahomans affected by induced seismicity caused by the oil and gas companies’ wastewater injection wells.
It was no surprise that Harold Hamm, CEO of Oklahoma based Continental Resources and key energy advisor to Trump during the presidential campaign, was the chair of Pruitt’s re-election campaign. Hamm is well known for his efforts to cast doubt on the connection between wastewater injection wells and the increase in seismicity that has made Oklahoma the earthquake capital of the United States and left private citizens holding the bill for the damage. It is almost certainly the case that Hamm played a significant role in influencing President Trump to select Pruitt to direct the EPA.
Pruitt has repeatedly argued that EPA regulations need to be cut in order to enhance the fossil fuel industry and industry in general. If he is confirmed by the United States Senate to be Director of the EPA, the fossil fuel industry will effectively be in control of the agency. Whether it will write 97% of the agency’s policy is yet to be seen, but what is almost beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the agency will be much less about environmental protection under Pruitt and much more about deregulation for the protection of corporate interests. Proactive measures to mitigate climate change will be a thing of the past, greatly decreasing the chances of maintaining a livable climate, and corporate interests will trump the well-being of people and the planet.