Trump nominates staunch EPA foe Scott Pruitt as agency head

As top prosecutor for a major oil-producing state, Mr. Pruitt has filed multiple lawsuits challenging EPA regulations.

Sue Ogrocki/ AP/
In this Thursday, March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a powerful advocate for the fossil fuel industry, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, according to media reports.

As top prosecutor for a major oil-producing state, Mr. Pruitt has filed multiple lawsuits challenging EPA regulations. Pruitt has also expressed skepticism about the extent of anthropogenic climate change, prompting fears that he might reverse President Obama’s environmental agenda.

“We're very accustomed to the naysayers and the critics,” senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said, according press pool reports. “Attorney General Pruitt has great qualifications and a good record.... We look forward to the confirmation hearings.”

Pruitt has a combative history with the agency he is poised to lead. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which would limit states' greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector, is currently tied up in the courts by a Pruitt-backed lawsuit. He has argued that federal emissions limits violate states’ rights and could drive up electricity rates.

Pruitt has also sued the EPA over tougher regulations of water bodies under the federal Clean Water Act, which could force certain industries to clean up wastewater.

“Scott Pruitt is a businessman and public servant and understands the impact regulation and legislation have in the business world,” Jeffrey McDougall, the chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said in a statement. “His appointment will put rational and reasonable regulation at the forefront.”

News of Pruitt's nomination prompted starkly partisan responses, as The Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday:

To conservatives, the pending announcement by the Trump transition team promises to put an ally of fossil-fuel development – and the jobs that come with it – at the head of an agency long derided as infringing on industry, states, and personal property rights.

Environmental groups and Democrats said the pick will undercut the agency's role of safeguarding clean air and water, and signals what they’d feared: Mr. Trump isn’t morphing into a friend to climate-change action.

"President-elect Trump promised to break the special interests’ grip on Washington, but his nomination of Mr. Pruitt – who has a troubling history of advocating on behalf of big oil at the expense of public health – only tightens it," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, who has been elected to be the next Congress' minority leader, said in a statement.

After meeting with former vice president Al Gore this week, Trump said that he had an “open mind” about remaining in the Paris climate agreement. But the president-elect’s pick for EPA head – a vocal climate skeptic, despite a nearly unanimous consensus from climate scientists – may signal a reversal.

“That debate is far from settled,” Pruitt wrote in a May opinion column for National Review with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R). “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”

Before Pruitt’s nomination was announced, outgoing EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy suggested that Americans’ support for clean air and water could tilt the EPA toward continuity – even under Trump.

“EPA's mission is a nonpartisan mission,” Ms. McCarthy said Monday at an event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week. “It's just about public health. People like clean air and clean water and healthy land.”

McCarthy suggested that public concerns, along with a burgeoning clean energy sector, will probably still inform the EPA’s policy direction. At a panel following the Monitor event, other experts agreed that market pressures could nudge Trump’s EPA toward the political center.

“They’ll figure it out,” McCarthy added, referring to the incoming administration. 

As president, Obama sought to boost climate change action while attempting not to “mess up” overall energy production, which includes fossil fuels, Jason Grumet, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, noted at the event. Trump, on the other hand, may try to find a balance between promoting the fossil fuel industry without hurting progress on greenhouse-gas reductions, Mr. Grumet noted, which might make the new administration a mirror image of the last. 

“I think this is going to be a little bit less of an extreme change than you might have been led to imagine,” Grumet said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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