Scott Pruitt Just Proposed His Third Radical Change At EPA Since His Scandals Began

The EPA chief's nonstop controversies have overshadowed how he's overhauling the agency's rule-making process.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate subcommittee on May 16, 2018.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate subcommittee on May 16, 2018.

Another day, another bizarre, oily Scott Pruitt controversy.

He ordered aides to track down a used Trump hotel mattress. He enlisted staff to drive around to hotels seeking out his favorite moisturizing lotion. He ate lunch in the White House cafeteria so often, he wore out his welcome.

But amid a three-month deluge of revelations about the Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s ethically dubious behavior, extravagant spending and chummy ties to industry executives, Pruitt has proposed three of the most radical policies of his 16-month tenure.

Two proposals threaten to cripple the EPA’s environmental rule-making process, while the third guts the only major federal policy to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On Thursday, the EPA issued a formal notice to solicit ideas on how the agency performs regulatory cost-benefit analysis, heeding industry players who complained that the Obama administration exaggerated the benefits of environmental rules and downplayed the costs to companies. The proposal could have wide-ranging effects, creating obstacles for future regulations and compelling the agency to reassess existing rules.

“Many have complained that the previous administration inflated the benefits and underestimated the costs of its regulations through questionable cost-benefit analysis,” Pruitt said in a statement. “This action is the next step toward providing clarity and real-world accuracy with respect to the impact of the agency’s decisions on the economy and the regulated community.”

Emissions rise from the coal-fired Santee Cooper Cross Generating Station in Pineville, South Carolina.
Emissions rise from the coal-fired Santee Cooper Cross Generating Station in Pineville, South Carolina.
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Over a month ago, Pruitt proposed a rule to dramatically limit the public health research the EPA can use to write regulations. The new rule would bar regulators from citing any research that cannot release raw data, disqualifying most major epidemiological studies that grant subjects anonymity to share personal health information. Scientists have panned the proposal ― based on legislation Republicans in Congress have repeatedly tried and failed to pass ― as “an attack on science.”

Three weeks earlier, Pruitt ― his tidal wave of scandals only just beginning to crest ― announced plans to reverse an Obama-era rule tightening fuel economy standards on vehicles. The rule would have required vehicles sold in the United States to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, putting them closer in line with automobiles in the rest of the developed world and saving car owners $3,200 to $5,700 in gasoline costs over a vehicle’s lifetime. The regulation would also have prevented vehicles from spewing an addition 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere ― equivalent to the entire annual emissions of Canada. Last week, the EPA’s science advisers rebuked the agency for ignoring its own research in concluding that the regulations were too stringent.

It’s unclear whether the EPA’s rapid rollout of new policy proposals is part of a deliberate campaign to preserve Pruitt’s job as the White House grows tired of defending him. Republicans have commended Pruitt for his effectiveness, even as legal challenges have stalled nearly one-third of his regulatory rollbacks. President Donald Trump praised Pruitt as recently as Wednesday, remarking at an event that “EPA is doing really, really well.”

Even if the more salacious details of Pruitt’s administration overshadow the drastic ways he’s affected policymaking, they still serve to alert the public that he’s abandoned the EPA’s public health mission, said Joanne Spalding, the chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club.

“All of these scandals are a helpful way to draw the public attention to the fact that he’s not doing the job he’s supposed to be doing to protect the public,” Spalding said by phone Thursday.

“It’s all of a piece,” she added. “He puts his own interests first and industry interests second, and the public is nowhere to be found on that list of priorities.”

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