Usually, new administrators at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are welcomed at headquarters without too much fanfare. That is, until today.
Scott Pruitt — the new EPA administrator nominated to the position by President Donald Trump — gave his welcome address to his agency Tuesday after garnering more “no” votes on the Senate floor than any other EPA nominee since the agency was founded in 1970.
In taking on the job, Pruitt is facing a daunting challenge: stiff resistance from within the agency itself, with current and former employees having protested his nomination, with some taking the nearly unheard of step of openly advocating for senators to vote “no” when it was brought to the Senate floor.
For some scientists in the agency, his first speech was probably the equivalent of Voldemort himself walking into Hogwarts and assuming the top job.
— Perrin Ireland (@experrinment) February 21, 2017
Pruitt openly doubts mainstream climate science findings, including that human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause of global temperature increases.
Pruitt was confirmed only hours after a judge in Oklahoma ordered the release of nearly 3,000 emails between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies from his time as attorney general. Those emails are due to be released by the end of the day on Tuesday.
In his first speech to agency employees on Tuesday, Pruitt spoke of federal environmental regulations as needing to be tailored for the benefit of regulated parties, rather than to protect the public.
“Regulations ought to make things regular. Regulations exist to give certainty to the regulated,” he said.
Pruitt clearly aims to shrink the agency’s mandate and footprint, and is expected to quickly move to reverse the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which regulates global warming-pollutants emitted from coal-fired power plants, along with a landmark water pollution regulation.
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times, including in opposition to the Clean Power Plan.
Pruitt did little to antagonize the EPA rank and file in his speech, saying, “civility is something that I believe in very much.” But he also didn’t say much that would immediately quell the internal resistance to him, either.
“This environment in which we live today, forgive the reference, but it is a very toxic environment,” he said. “I seek to be a good listener.”
Pruitt even went so far as quoting famous naturalist John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club, in his comments.
“We need to be open and transparent” says Scott Pruitt, new EPA administrator who refused to release emails btwn his office and industry
— Natasha Geiling (@ngeiling) February 21, 2017
In response, the Sierra Club put out this blistering statement: “John Muir is rolling over in his grave at the notion of someone as toxic to the environment as Scott Pruitt taking over the EPA.”
A lot is at stake if and when Pruitt and the Trump administration move to dismantle the Clean Power Plan. The Obama administration had turned to the EPA to lead the charge on global warming, and without other rules to drive down emissions, getting rid of the Clean Power Plan would jeopardize America’s ability to meet the emissions targets it agreed to under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Pruitt did not mention climate change, or any other specific environmental challenge, in his speech, instead giving general nods to the need to return more of a role for environmental protection to the states.
“We can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment,” he said.
While his tone was conciliatory, Pruitt still has his work cut out for him in winning over rank and file staff members.
One longtime EPA employee, who wished to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak to the press, said there were two notable absences in Pruitt’s speech. The first was the lack of any mention of public health, which is part of the agency’s mission.
In addition, the EPA staff member said it was “super condescending” to have Pruitt explain “obvious fundamentals of doing our jobs,” such as following the laws set forth by Congress.
“Really we have follow the statutes? Work well with states? You don’t say.”
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