Pruitt poised to re­vamp EPA’s ‘green’ agenda

Nom­i­nee known to be an enemy of agency

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

With Scott Pruitt poised to re­shape the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists soon will find them­selves on the out­side look­ing in af­ter eight years of driv­ing cli­mate change pol­icy and wield­ing un­prece­dented in­flu­ence over fed­eral reg­u­la­tors.

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s se­lec­tion of Mr. Pruitt, Ok­la­homa’s at­tor­ney gen­eral and one of the EPA’s staunch­est en­e­mies since his elec­tion in 2010, sig­nals the end of a power struc­ture that has al­lowed en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists to not only have the ear of govern­ment of­fi­cials but also to play a sig­nif­i­cant role in writ­ing pol­icy and, in the process, en­sure that their goals were ad­dressed.

Groups like the Sierra Club, the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, and oth­ers no longer will find an ally atop the EPA, and over the next four years they’ll battle an agency with which they’ve had a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship since Pres­i­dent Obama’s first days in of­fice.

From day one of a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr. Pruitt’s EPA is ex­pected to be much friend­lier to oil-and-gas in­dus­try in­ter­ests, and will act quickly to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other EPA ef­forts de­signed to weaken the fos­sil fu­els in­dus­try, re­duce green­house gas emis­sions, and strengthen the re­new­able fuel sec­tor. At the same time, en­ergy an­a­lysts say the in­flu­ence of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists will shrink dra­mat­i­cally, and those ac­tivists likely will turn their at­ten­tion to law­suits, large-scale protests, and other ways to dis­rupt the Trump-Pruitt agenda from the side­lines.

“With­out a doubt, the en­vi­ron­men­tal groups will go from hav­ing a seat at the table, help­ing to ac­tu­ally write the reg­u­la­tions, to def­i­nitely be­ing on the out­side,” said Daniel Sim­mons, vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy at the con­ser­va­tive In­sti­tute for En­ergy Re­search. “Scott Pruitt, while he’s sued the fed­eral govern­ment on the Clean Power Plan, for ex­am­ple, his op­po­si­tion is not just to the govern­ment but also to those en­vi­ron­men­tal groups … It ex­tends fur­ther than the EPA.”

The close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mr. Obama’s EPA and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists has in­cluded a re­mark­able level of ac­cess. Emails from the ac­count of for­mer EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Lisa Jack­son, who headed the agency dur­ing Mr. Obama’s first term, showed vir­tu­ally con­stant con­tact be­tween EPA lead­ers and out­side en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, and usu­ally in­cluded dis­cus­sions of spe­cific poli­cies un­der de­vel­op­ment at the time.

Crit­ics have even sug­gested that the EPA lifted of­fi­cial pol­icy lan­guage from en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist pro­pos­als, though groups like the Sierra Club and the NRDC have de­nied those charges. Nei­ther group re­sponded to a re­quest for com­ment Thurs­day.

Be­yond dis­cus­sions about pol­icy, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups also have used “sue and set­tle” tac­tics to drive reg­u­la­tory changes. Un­der the sys­tem, out­side or­ga­ni­za­tions sue a fed­eral agency, and the agency set­tles the law­suit by agree­ing to at least some of the lit­i­gants’ de­mands. EPA de­trac­tors say the method es­sen­tially amounts of de facto fed­eral rule-mak­ing and casts aside the nor­mal process for writ­ing new reg­u­la­tions.

Un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, there’s also been a bla­tant re­volv­ing door be­tween fed­eral agen­cies and lead­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal groups. NRDC Pres­i­dent Rhea Suh, for ex­am­ple, served as as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for pol­icy, man­age­ment, and bud­get at the In­te­rior De­part­ment be­fore tak­ing her job atop the NRDC in Jan­uary 2015.

In a state­ment Thurs­day an­nounc­ing his se­lec­tion of Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Trump sug­gested he wants his EPA to aban­don the kinds of reg­u­la­tion fa­vored by en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists — reg­u­la­tions that he ar­gues have ham­pered eco­nomic growth.

“For too long, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has spent tax­payer dol­lars on an out-of­con­trol anti-en­ergy agenda that has de­stroyed mil­lions of jobs, while also un­der­min­ing our in­cred­i­ble farm­ers and many other busi­nesses and in­dus­tries at ev­ery turn,” the pres­i­dent-elect said. “As my EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor, Scott Pruitt, the highly re­spected at­tor­ney gen­eral from the state of Ok­la­homa, will re­verse this trend and re­store the EPA’s es­sen­tial mis­sion of keep­ing our air and our wa­ter clean and safe.”

In his own com­ments, Mr. Pruitt said he’ll run the EPA “in a way that fos­ters both re­spon­si­ble pro­tec­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment and free­dom for Amer­i­can busi­nesses.”

For now, ac­tivist groups are mum on their broader plans mov­ing for­ward and are fo­cused largely on pres­sur­ing se­na­tors to re­ject Mr. Pruitt, call­ing him an un­ac­cept­able choice.

“Noth­ing less than our chil­dren’s health is at stake. Scott Pruitt, whose own bio de­scribes him as ‘a lead­ing ad­vo­cate against the EPA’s ac­tivist agenda’ can­not be trusted to head the EPA, an agency charged with pro­tect­ing all Amer­i­cans from threats to their wa­ter, air, and health,” Michael Brune, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Sierra Club, said in a state­ment.

Pruitt

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