The specter of Scott Pruitt - Oklahoma Attorney General - at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is intolerable, not simply because he is cozy with Big Oil or Big Ag, or even because he has a well-demonstrated track record of opposing reasonable environmental protections to stem climate change, safeguard public health, protect drinking water, or restore clean air. No doubt these are disqualifying truths about Pruitt, but his nomination is emblematic of something far more dangerous - the strategic transformation of our democracy into a corporate oligarchy. This transformation requires public officials willing to act with disregard for our nation’s democratic norms at the behest of polluter interests. Scott Pruitt is precisely that type of public official.
Attorneys General (AGs) are the state’s Chief Legal Officers and possess a great deal of authority to enforce civil and criminal laws and represent the public’s interests. When AGs work together, they can be a powerful force to address major public interest problems that directly benefit the lives of the people they serve; for example, recovering health care costs from tobacco companies, and enforcing consumer protection, environmental, antitrust, and securities laws intended to protect the public from corporate abuses.
The AGs’ success in protecting the public over the last few decades has, in turn, led to a coordinated effort by corporate interests to put a stop to it. This strategy seeks to destroy, denigrate or capture state law enforcement authority while simultaneously weakening the power of the federal government to regulate in the public interest - all in the name of federalism. The intended result is that no one remains free to impartially protect the public against corporate malfeasance.
Scott Pruitt is the perfect agent of this strategy. During his time as Oklahoma’s AG, Pruitt weakened state enforcement authority by dismantling Oklahoma’s Environmental Protection Unit, which had been responsible for enforcing the state’s environmental laws. He replaced it with Oklahoma’s first Federalism Unit to “combat unwarranted federal regulation and overreach by the federal government” and position himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Adopting corporate anti-law enforcement talking points, Pruitt further weakened state authority by characterizing Oklahoma’s decade-long effort to enforce environmental laws against Tyson Foods and others, as “regulation through litigation.” Since then, in support of the federal “overreach” prong of the strategy, Pruitt challenged EPA’s regulatory efforts on at least 13 occasions, lobbied EPA for Devon Energy, and formed a secretive alliance between AGs and energy firms. In one of those lawsuits to stop EPA “overreach,” Pruitt parroted the position of the American Farm Bureau Federation and represented to a federal court that the “Clean Water Rule” requires the state to undertake a plethora of new Clean Water Act (CWA) regulatory actions at great expense, when in reality Oklahoma has been implementing the CWA on all of those waters for decades.
To support his unprecedented departures from the norms that protect the integrity of his office, Pruitt has also accepted large financial contributions from corporate interests like Koch Industries, Devon Energy, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, the Oklahoma Pork Council, and Monsanto, as well as individual donations from several corporate titans. He also served as President of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which collected $23 million from corporate and other interests in 2015-2016 and facilitates corporate access to influence AGs nationwide.
If the Senate confirms Pruitt’s nomination as EPA Administrator, his past indicates that he will do everything in his power to destroy the laws, systems and principles that protect our nation’s public health and natural resources. Scott Pruitt has consistently demonstrated that he acts at the behest of powerful corporate interests, and that he intends to use any means necessary to disrupt the delicate balance of state and federal power that sustains our environmental laws and protects the public. Pruitt’s nomination is emblematic of the continued rise of corporate oligarchy, and he must not be allowed to continue his destructive mission as EPA Administrator.