Donald Trump has reportedly decided who he wants to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency next year: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Ruh-roh.
Pruitt’s name had been on Trump’s (anti-)environmental shortlist for some time. But the decision didn’t need to be surprising to be depressing. Pruitt has long used his perch as Oklahoma AG to serve as a loyal friend to the oil and gas industry in his home state. His selection should extinguish any remaining hope that President Trump, who will be the only world leader who openly and outright rejects fighting climate change, will somehow be convinced by his daughter (or Al Gore) to act in response to the scientific consensus.
Just as an Obamacare critic will soon be running HHS and an anti-public school activist leading the Department of Education, the EPA is going to be run by a man who proudly proclaims himself a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Pruitt has been out in front in the conservative fight against President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, though it remains an open question if he’s leading the fight, or simply following orders from his friends in the fossil fuel industry.
A New York Times investigation in 2014 discovered that Pruitt was one of a number of conservative attorneys general who had joined what the paper described as a “secretive alliance” created by several of the nation’s top energy producers to pre-emptively fight Obama’s climate agenda. Among the report’s revelations: Pruitt submitted a three-page letter to the EPA and other federal agencies in 2011 on the economic hardship caused to the oil and gas industry by federal environmental rules—but in reality that letter was authored by lawyers from Oklahoma-based Devon Energy and passed along to the AG’s office by the company’s lobbyists.
The question is just how much damage Pruitt will be able to do at the EPA, which Trump suggested during the campaign he plans to do away with entirely. As Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash have previously explained in Slate, Trump can’t unilaterally abolish the agency, and rescinding its rules would be an arduous process, thanks to public comment periods and other bureaucratic hurdles. Still, as the New York Times’ Coral Davenport explains, “it would be possible for a legally experienced E.P.A. chief to substantially weaken, delay or slowly dismantle them.” Pruitt sounds like just the man for the job.