Scott Pruitt should send a shiver down your spine, even if your idea of environmentalism is using the same cup for a refill of your soda. At his confirmation hearing for head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nearly a fortnight ago, Pruitt was unable to name even a single EPA regulation he supported. His hedging revealed a breathtaking, if perhaps unsurprising, amount of contempt for not only one of the nation’s most vital offices but also the very post he aspires to hold. During his tenure attorney general of oil- and gas-fueled Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the agency a vertigo-inducing 14 times for anti-pollution regulations he said were “inconsistent with its constitutional and statutory authority.”
Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, opined that Pruitt, if installed, might be the “most hostile EPA administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.” And indeed Pruitt’s career is a catalogue of micro- and macro-aggressions against what many would consider basic human entitlements.
When Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asked Pruitt to name “one Clean Air Act regulation—not a voluntary or grant program—on the books today” that he approved of, Pruitt prevaricated.
“I firmly believe that the EPA plays an important role, especially as it relates to cross-state air and water pollution, but EPA must do so within the bounds of its legal authority as provided by Congress,” he said. “Regulations that are not on solid legal foundation and that cannot survive judicial review will not result in environmental protections.”
While Pruitt disagreed with President Donald Trump’s assertion that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese government, he stopped short of declaring that human activity was to blame.
“I do not believe that climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt told Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) at the hearing. Later, when pressed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to explain his position, Pruitt demurred by calling the issue “subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”
In response to a query about whether “removing lead from gasoline was an important and successful EPA rulemaking,” Pruitt tersely said that he had “not evaluated this issue.”
Lead cast a particularly large shadow at the hearing. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) asked Pruitt if he believed there was any safe level of lead in the human body, particularly for children and adolescents. His response, whether born of ignorance or sheer recalcitrance, was chilling.
“That’s something I have not reviewed nor know about,” Pruitt replied. “I would be very concerned about any level of lead going into the drinking water or obviously human consumption, but I’ve not looked at the scientific research on that.”
According to EPA, there is “no safe level of exposure to lead,” although an extremely small amount is allowed in pipes and plumbing fixtures.
Equally alarming, Pruitt dodged senators’ questions about his ties with energy companies and other potential conflicts of interest by directing them to file open-records requests not once but 18 times.
“Pruitt’s directive to senators to file Oklahoma open records requests is the political equivalent of saying ‘go pound sand,'” John Walke, Clean Air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said on Thursday.
Suffice to say, none of this went down well with the committee. In a follow-up letter, Sanders, Markey, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) took Pruitt to task for what they dubbed his “troubling evasions.”
In addition to calling out Pruitt’s murky public reporting of any political and legal conflicts of interest he may have as EPA administrator, not to mention his history of undermining environmental protections, the senators also condemned his “erroneous statements concerning well-established science.”
“You did not know there is a safe level of lead in the human body,” they said. “You refused to repudiate statements you made that question the health impacts of mercury pollution. You refused to acknowledge that carbon pollution from human activities is widely recognized as the largest drive of climate change. These statements raise significant questions about whether instead of embracing science, you will be embracing ‘alternative facts.'”
An administration that revels in spurious claims and half-truths would only seek to politicize research for its own benefit, hobbling discourse in the process. Fact would yield to belief, illumination to obfuscation, the needs of the many to the demands of the few.
Prognosis? A Pruitt-led EPA would be good for polluters, bad for everyone else.