By Kate Galbo
On December 7th President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team announced the selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, despite the fact that he is currently involved in suing the agency. In order to fight regulations imposed on the oil and gas industries in his state, Pruitt has sued, on multiple occasions, the agency he is now appointed to lead. With the fossil fuel industry in his back pocket and best interests, Pruitt has described himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Pruitt is a well-known figure in the opposition against the Clean Power Plan and has orchestrated a number of legal challenges to the EPA. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt formed an alliance with some of the nation’s top fossil fuel energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda.
There is ample evidence that Scott Pruitt’s fossil fuel ties run deep. A 2014 investigation found that fossil fuel lobbyists drafted letters for Pruitt to send to the EPA, the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and President Obama outlining their opposition to environmental regulations. The investigation revealed that a 2011 letter from Pruitt protesting the EPA’s method for calculating methane emissions from natural gas wells was drafted almost entirely by natural gas companies. He jointly filed an anti-regulatory lawsuit with industry players like Oklahoma Gas and Electric, the coal-burning electric utility, and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, a group backed by major oil and gas executives. Behind the scenes, Pruitt was taking campaign contributions from many of the executives on his alliance, as well as helping deliver even larger sums of money to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which he later became the chairman of.
At the heart of Obama’s efforts to fight climate change are a collection of EPA regulations, known as the Clean Power Plan, that would require power plants to reduce carbon emissions under a provision of the 1970 Clean Air Act. While Trump does not have the legal authority to unilaterally undo those regulations, the chief of the EPA could either weaken or delay them. Though, this is not a simple or overnight task by any means. If Obama’s Clean Power Plan is upheld, the regulations can only be undone by proposing an entirely new rule with a legally convincing argument for why the change is necessary. Such a rulemaking could take years and would be challenged in court. This may depend on his Supreme Court appointments.
Appointment aside, the EPA itself is likely in danger – Trump vowed to shrink, or even dismantle, the agency. The new administration would face difficulties eliminating the agency, as it would need approval from Congress to completely erase it. Trump could very likely shrink their staff and budget, or close regional offices. Mr. Pruitt will likely weaken existing regulations but also take some away from the federal government, pushing them onto the states.
Luckily, a handful of states are are ready and willing to take the lead on climate action. While it may not align with the new administration, cities, businesses, citizens, and states like Massachusetts will continue implementing bold climate policies and technology , because we know that doing so is in our own self-interest. The fight against climate change has never primarily been dependent on Washington. Much of our progress has come from local level support, and this needs to be the source of change now more than ever.