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Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to approve President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
With this vote, Pruitt moves one step closer to overseeing the federal agency empowered to ensure clean air and clean water for all Americans. Tragically, the EPA is also the agency that Pruitt has spent decades working to undermine.
Trump’s selection of Pruitt may work to serve his conservative base, but it does not best serve our country. The appointment of Pruitt would create a public health disaster. Our bedrock environmental laws passed Congress decades ago with broad bipartisan support. The Clean Air Act passed in 1970 unanimously, save one vote. The Clean Water Act also was wildly popular when it passed. Republican President Richard Nixon established the EPA to enforce these and other environmental protections. The agency’s authority was strengthened by another Republican, George H.W. Bush.
Today, as in the past four decades, protecting our air and water and ensuring the health of our families has enjoyed strong bipartisan support not only from elected officials but also by a majority of Americans.
Pruitt’s track record as Oklahoma’s attorney general paints a bleak picture of what his leadership of the agency would mean for American families. Pruitt joined polluters in a staggering 14 lawsuits against the very agency he has been selected to lead. These suits aimed to dismantle critical public health safeguards ranging from the Clean Water Rule that protects drinking water sources for 117 million Americans to the Mercury and Air Toxic rule that protects our kids and other vulnerable citizens from highly damaging pollution. As attorney general, he delayed legal action to clean up major poultry pollution plaguing his state’s waterways. He led the opposition to EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which set the first ever national limits on carbon pollution. AG Pruitt even dismantled the environmental control unit of his own office. And these are only examples.
In a nutshell, Pruitt’s track record as attorney general set environmental protections backward, not forward. And it has been difficult to find anything AG Pruitt did to protect the health of the Oklahomans during his time in office. As U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey noted during Pruitt’s confirmation hearing, Oklahoma has been ground zero for asthma problems, which affect 1 in every 10 kids in the state. Pruitt couldn’t name one time that he filed a case in support of kids with asthma.
Pruitt’s knowledge of science — which should underpin all decisions made by the EPA– is lacking, as is his familiarity with some of the most basic and pressing issues facing the agency he hopes to direct. He has said human-caused climate change is a matter of “continuing debate.” He had no comment on how much lead in drinking water could harm humans nor on the potential health impacts of exercising outdoors on a day with poor air quality. In fact, Pruitt could not identify one EPA safeguard that he actually supports.
Ironically, Pruitt’s loyalty to fossil-fuel interests is easier to identify. Pruitt accepted approximately $350,000 from the fossil-fuel industry, including the infamous Koch brothers. And more than once he put his official attorney general letterhead and his signature on letters objecting to EPA policy written by oil companies and sent them to the agency he is now hoping to oversee.
Pruitt is outside the mainstream in his actions and views when it comes to protecting our air and water, stopping the worst impacts of climate change, and keeping our families healthy. The vast majority of people in Colorado and around the country continue to support a clean and healthy environment and the rules and laws designed to keep it that way.
Coloradans and all Americans deserve an EPA administrator who will fight to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we love. Pruitt fails on all these accounts. We’re calling on U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner to stand with science, our families’ health, clean water and clean air and reject Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.
Emma Spett is a campaign organizer with Environment Colorado. Jerry Tinianow is Denver’s chief sustainability officer.