Nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. EPA threatens our health and climate

Among the many fossil-fueled extremists and climate deniers nominated by president-elect Donald Trump to lead key federal agencies, Scott Pruitt stands out as an extreme choice.

 Pruitt, who is originally from Danville, Kentucky, is Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He currently serves as Oklahoma Attorney General where he has focused his political career advancing the interests of industrial agriculture and the fossil fuel industry. Along the way he has benefitted handsomely from their direct political contributions and the support of their political action committees.

The U.S. EPA is responsible for protecting the land, water, air and climate on which all lives depend. Yet the man Trump has nominated to lead this essential and complex public service denies the science of climate change. He has sued the EPA 14 times in recent years, including 8 cases that are still active. And he has repeatedly used his political position to do the bidding of powerful polluters.

For example, Pruitt intervened to weaken a legal settlement against corporate chicken farms. He was exposed in 2014 by the New York Times for sending letters on official government stationary that were actually written by energy industry lobbyists, urging federal regulators to ease up on rules to reduce methane emissions and other harmful pollutants. He led an association of Republican Attorneys General which coordinated lawsuits against the EPA while raking in $4.2 million between 2013 and 2016 from fossil-fuel related companies such as Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Murray Energy and Southern Company. (Fossil fuel interests also donated an additional $16 million directly to the election campaigns of individual Republican Attorneys General.)

In 2013-2014, Pruitt’s re-election campaign for Attorney General of Oklahoma was co-chaired by Harold Hamm, the CEO of Continental Energy, an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company. Hamm is one of the key players in the development fracking and horizontal drilling methods used to open up the Bakken shale oil field in North Dakota and parts of Montana. He is now Trump’s key advisor on energy issues.

Pruitt’s confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate begins on January 18 before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. That committee is chaired by Sen. James Inhofe, who hails from Pruitt’s state of Oklahoma and is among the most extreme climate change deniers and EPA opponents in the U.S. Senate. 

To reject Pruitt’s nomination, at least four Republican Senators will need to vote against him since one Democratic Senator (Joe Manchin of West Virginia) has already expressed his support for the nominee. That may be a steep hurdle for Pruitt’s opponents, considering the fact that only three Republican Senators voted in 2015 for a resolution affirming that human activity contributes significantly to climate change. (Those voting yes on that measure were Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.)

Here are numbers you can use to express your views on this nomination, and others:

 * Sen Mitch McConnell: 502-582-6304
* Sen Rand Paul: 270-782-8303

During the confirmation hearing, the case against Scott Pruitt’s nomination is likely to focus on several core issues:

  • He is a key architect of the legal challenge by 28 states and many fossil fuel companies and utilities to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. And he has repeatedly denied the scientific consensus on climate change. The day after the election, he declared in an interview that the Trump administration would roll back EPA rules like the Clean Power Plan. He boasted, “There’ll have to be rules proposed by the EPA to withdraw those, but that will happen. And there will be notice and comments that will be taken. And then those rules will ultimately be withdrawn.”
  • He directly and indirectly benefits from hundreds of thousands of dollars contributed by fossil fuel interests in recent years. The energy industry gave $114,000 to Pruitt’s election campaign in 2014. They’ve given hundreds of thousands more to two political action committees set up in 2015 to advance Pruitt’s political future and run by people involved with his campaign. A third dark-money PAC was recently established to support his EPA nomination. All of those contributions are on top of millions given by energy companies to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Pruitt led, and to the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a nonprofit that bankrolls legal challenges to federal regulations brought by Republican Attorneys General.
 

The coming week will see a flurry of additional confirmation hearings on many controversial picks, including the appointment of Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary. Ross is the CEO of ICG, one of the largest strip-mining companies operating in eastern Kentucky. He was at the helm of that company in 2005 when 12 miners died in the 2005 Sago Mine Disaster in West Virginia. Former KFTC chairperson Teri Blanton is quoted in this recent story about ICG's track record in Kentucky.

A rundown of the hearings taking place this week can be found here.

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