Scott Pruitt: Trump's New EPA Chief Backed by Frackers, Keen on Coal

How has the American language become so befouled that the words "conservative" and "conservationist" often denote completely different values?

Beats me. But in Scott Pruitt, the current Oklahoma attorney general and President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, we have a particular breed of 21st-century conservative, a champion of states' rights (when it suits him) and poor, beleaguered industries, including poor little Big Oil and much-maligned King Coal, a crusader bent on repealing a bunch of greenie regulations that just get in the way of pumping out cheap, reliable energy. It's a strain of Republican that Teddy Roosevelt — or EPA progenitor Richard Nixon, for that matter — would be hard pressed to recognize.

Here are three things you need to know about the new EPA boss before the rollback begins.

1. He thinks "climate change" is a bullying tactic of the left. In an article he co-authored for the National Review last spring, Pruitt took strong exception to the news that a coalition of Democratic attorneys general were making plans to investigate energy companies [that are] funding campaigns that cast doubt on "the science behind man-made global warming." Although no prosecutions resulted from the probe, he denounced the effort as "governmental intimidation" and un-American, especially since the "debate" over climate change "is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums and the halls of Congress."

It's true that scientists differ about the accuracy of particular climate models and projections. To say there is a "debate" among climatologists about whether global warming exists and its "connection to the actions of mankind" is kind of like saying the debate about whether smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer is far from settled — a position that tobacco companies continued to maintain for decades, despite piles of evidence to the contrary, while their customers kicked off by the millions.

2. The guy is a tool — of the energy industry. Pruitt has denounced government officials who pursue the Obama administration's "climate change agenda" as mere puppets of environmental lobbyists, but he's getting a lot of heat for his own ties to energy companies, which donated heavily to his AG campaign and to a federal PAC closely linked to him. Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, calls Pruitt an "industry puppet." It's hard to argue when, as the New York Times pointed out two years ago, a letter Pruitt sent to the EPA complaining about air-pollution estimates was actually written by attorneys for Devon Energy, then sent out on Pruitt's letterhead, with his signature. The fracking industry loves Oklahoma — so much so that the state leads the lower 48 in the number of earthquakes, thanks to injection wells used to store waste from drilling operations — and Oklahoma's attorney general loves ’em back.

3. He's passionate about letting states regulate themselves — except for marijuana. In the crosshairs of the new EPA boss is the agency's Clean Power Plan, which sets stringent CO2 emission standards in an effort to nudge the energy industry away from coal-fired power plants in favor of cleaner sources, such as natural gas. Pruitt would rather leave all sorts of emission standards to the states. He's a states'-rights guy — except for that time he and the Nebraska attorney general sued Colorado over its right to legalize weed.

As I pointed out in an earlier post about the Department of Interior, appointing deregulation ideologues to run a sprawling bureaucracy rarely works well. Pruitt could prove to be stunningly ineffective as EPA chief. Even if he is successful in repealing or weakening standards regarding methane emissions, water quality and so on, many states do have their own regulations about such things. Colorado, for example, has some of the most restrictive state standards regarding oil and gas drilling to be found anywhere in the country. And Oklahoma has — well, Oklahoma has earthquakes.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast