Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s confirmation last Friday as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency spells an ominous sign for the future of the agency.
Pruitt’s official attorney general website boasts of his status as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” as is evident in his largely unsuccessful fights against EPA regulations concerning mercury, lead and arsenic pollution.
Pruitt is also known for his particularly friendly relationship with fossil fuel lobbyists: They not only funded his re-election campaign, but even drafted letters to government officials, which Pruitt signed on official attorney general stationary.
But most alarmingly, Pruitt has not yet decided his position on the impact of human activity on climate change. This utterly disregards the opinion of the majority of Americans, 64 percent of whom are worried about global warming according to a 2016 Gallup poll.
More than 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree human activity has contributed to climate-warming trends over the past half-century, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Unless we radically change our polluting behaviors, our world faces an impending environmental catastrophe. Yet we are now witnessing President Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican-led Congress launch an all-out assault on any effort to protect our environment.
While the fights in the Senate over Trump’s Cabinet officials have dominated news headlines for the past few weeks, the House of Representatives has been busy butchering years of common-sense environmental regulations. In just the past few weeks, the Republican-dominated House has slashed regulations stopping coal companies from dumping waste into public waterways, as well as measures related to safe methane waste prevention from burning natural gas.
Congress has invoked a little-known loophole for this slash-and-burn strategy: claiming these regulations fall under the purview of the EPA and not the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. In this way, Congress has been able to overturn recent executive actions and restrict filibustering attempts and court challenges. Only a presidential veto can stop these actions, and with Trump at the helm, I am not holding my breath.
With these devastating Congressional rollbacks and indifference from the White House, the onus falls even more heavily on the EPA to stand up for the popular opinion concerning humanity’s destructive impact on the environment. With Pruitt in charge, this unprecedented disregard for scientific fact and public health will be even more common. Pruitt’s experience as attorney general, especially as one who obsessed over combatting the EPA’s protectionist agenda, will give him special insight on how to effectively dismantle critical EPA programs and regulations.
Already, we are seeing an appalling attack on the agency, including hiring freezes, executive actions to shut down EPA public communications and attempts to erase climate change research programs. There is even a bill going around the House to abolish the EPA entirely.
If the EPA is to remain a key player in the fight against environmental destruction and a leader in the global transition toward a more sustainable future, we must fight for what our entire global community needs: common sense and nonpartisan protection of our environment. This means calling your Senator and showing your representatives some love, too.
There is still so much more damage the Pruitt and the Republican-dominated Congress can do, which means more opportunities for us to stand up and put a stop to it.
Justin McCartney is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.
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