Hundreds of former Environmental Protection Agency officials are urging the Senate to reject Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the agency that once employed them.
In a letter, released Monday, 447 former EPA employees say Pruitt’s record raises “serious questions” about his ability “to act in the public’s interest based on current law and the best available science.”
The Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog group launched by ex-EPA officials in 2002, coordinated the missive.
The letter argues that during his six years serving as Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt “has shown no interest in enforcing environmental laws” — which it describes as a “critically important function” of the EPA. Instead, the letter notes, Pruitt has repeatedly sued the EPA in an effort to overturn regulations and standards, such as those intended to reduce smog levels in cities and mercury emissions from power plants.
His “disturbing” record offers few counterexamples of genuine efforts to reduce pollution, according to the letter. Although Pruitt has cited his work to protect the Illinois River from phosphorous runoff, the letter notes that Pruitt’s action in that matter actually delayed enforcement of phosphorous limits.
The signers are also concerned that Pruitt has expressed “reluctance to accept and act on the strong scientific consensus on climate change,” an issue they say requires urgent action.
Pruitt is “a strange person” to put in charge of the EPA, said Eric Schaeffer, the Environmental Integrity Project’s executive director and co-founder who also signed the letter.
“I don’t think there’s anything approaching balance in Pruitt’s record or any of his public statements,” Schaeffer, who previously served as director of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement, told HuffPost. “They all go in one direction of the EPA as an oppressive, job-killing monster.”
The letter also raises a transparency issue: Pruitt has acknowledged that some 3,000 emails and documents pertaining to his close ties with fossil fuel companies exist but have still not been produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed two years ago.
While the letter is strongly worded, its perspective is described as nonpartisan.
The letter’s signers are hardly “flame-throwing radicals,” Schaeffer said. Among the group are scientists, administrators, lawyers and others who have served under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
“There are people on this list who have had disputes with each other within the EPA over which direction policy should go. That’s healthy and what you should see at an agency like this,” Schaeffer told HuffPost. “These are people who spent years and years there. We want the senators to know how EPA veterans feel about this.”
The full Senate’s confirmation vote on Pruitt, which should take place this week, will likely succeed along party lines.
Democrats on the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee boycotted the panel’s vote on Pruitt last week, citing concerns that he had not adequately addressed lingering questions about his record. But committee Republicans suspended the usual rules and unanimously approved the nominee anyway.
In his official state biography, Pruitt has described himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” As Oklahoma attorney general, he has sued the agency more than a dozen times.
As EPA administrator, Pruitt is expected to reduce the agency’s budget and power. News outlet Axios reports that the “absolute hammering” considered by Trump’s transition team includes cuts to state and tribal assistance grants, the termination of climate programs, and a rollback of regulations under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule.
Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food, water, agriculture and climate. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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