Bill Straub: Scott Pruitt and the EPA he is leading is not protecting the environment for the long term

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Anyone clinging to the notion that Belle Brezing is the most notorious prostitute ever produced by Lexington isn’t paying attention to the antics of Scott Pruitt, top dog at the Environmental Protection Agency.

While it can be argued that the services provided by Ms. Brezing and her employees did little real harm to the denizens of Fayette County and those visiting town for the races back in the early 20th Century, the Danville-born and Lexington-raised Pruitt is aggressively working to dirty the nation’s water and air here in the early 21st Century in order to satisfy his most reliable customers, the Lords of Energy, to the detriment of all others.

Pruitt’s activities have been well documented and the resulting devastation shows no sign of ebbing, pushing science aside in a relentless effort to permit power plants to belch poisons through their smokestacks and coal companies to dirty what remains of the pristine waters of mountain regions, all with an eye toward seeking favor with those he truly answers to — the oil and coal industries.

Just a few examples:

Pruitt rejected the recommendations of his agency’s own chemical safety experts and moved against banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is currently used on about 50 different types of crops. EPA scientists determined that exposure to chlorpyrifos, which was already banned for home use because of the dangers it presented, can result in lower IQs and increase the potential for autism in children and brain damage in farm workers. That decision came despite the law, which requires the EPA to ban pesticides it cannot determine are safe.

Scott Pruitt

He infamously reversed the Clean Power Plan promulgated by the administration of former President Barack Obama intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing U.S. power plants without, to this point, proposing a replacement. The Obama plan called for reducing carbon emissions produced by electric utilities by 32 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. Greenhouse gasses, like carbon dioxide, are major contributors to Global Climate Change, a problem that Pruitt virtually dismisses with the wave of a hand.

Soiling the air wasn’t good enough for Pruitt. He also took steps to repeal the 2015 Waters of the United States regulation that extended federal oversight of small waterways for pollution control purposes.

All that is just the beginning of the hit parade. Pruitt has yet to offer any proposal that actually enhances the EPA’s authority over any problem associated with air or water pollution. It’s unlikely he ever will.

Now he’s looking to change the roster of various scientific panels organized to provide the EPA with insight on significant matters related to issues like drinking water and pesticides. Pruitt wants to give the boot to any scientist serving on any of the 22 boards who receive federal research grants – essentially dismissing anyone worth his or her salt. He intends to replace these experts with a more diverse crew, no doubt representing the polluters his office is supposed to be regulating, even though they stand to profit from agency decisions to a much greater degree than those scientists currently serving.

“Whatever science comes out of EPA shouldn’t be political science,” said Pruitt, who received a BA in political science from Georgetown College in 1990.

Oh, the death of irony.

Pruitt was an energy sector stooge long before he arrived at the EPA. In fact, the services he provided to the resources pirates are the primary reason he was selected for the administrator’s job in the first place. The self-described “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda’’ during his tenure as Oklahoma attorney general from 2011 tom 2017, Pruitt sued the EPA at least 14 times, often at the behest of the state’s oil interests.

Thousands of emails circulated during his tenure as attorney general established his close ties to the industry, especially with Devon Energy, a major oil and gas exploration outfit based in Oklahoma City. Top corporate officials met frequently with their boy Scotty in the AG’s office. In fact, Devon representatives helped draft letters signed by Pruitt to dispatch to federal officials in an effort to stave off new regulations.

And he was rewarded handsomely. According to the Chicago Tribune, Pruitt received more than $300,000 from oil and gas companies during his various political campaigns over the years. He also led the Republican Attorneys General Association, which received substantial sums of money from Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Murray Energy and other firms.

Scotty knows which side of the bread the butter’s on. And if he has to be a toady, well, he has no trouble with that.

The problem is his office is promoting, not preventing, a real and present danger to not only America but the world. His blindness about global climate change and resistance to do anything about it creates a legitimate peril, maybe not today or tomorrow but almost certainly for future generations. All in return for 30 pieces of silver.

Pruitt has denied the scientific community’s overwhelming consensus on global climate change, its reality and causes. In reaction, the EPA has scrubbed most, if not all, references to climate change from its web site – certainly a key area for sounding the bugle to warn about the potential catastrophe. This was done, according to the Washington Post, with Pruitt’s approval because, according to the site itself, it is being updated to “reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.”

Now the agency is even clamping down on its own scientists talking about global climate change. Three EPA researchers were recently slated to discuss the issue during a conference regarding the state of the Narragansett Bay and watershed in Rhode Island. Those appearance were canceled at the last minute by the EPA Office of Public Affairs without explanation.

Things have gotten so bad that one of Scotty’s professors at the University of Tulsa College of Law has felt compelled to issue a formal apology for helping to foist the polluter’s best friend on an “unsuspecting public.’’

“Surely I’m at least partially to blame for failing to nurture in him a deep regard for seeing law as an instrument for addressing real facts on the ground, not simply implementing a political ideology, regardless the facts,’’ wrote Rex J. Zedalis, who taught Pruitt at Tulsa in the early 1990s, in an op-ed for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

“What affords all of us, including Administrator Pruitt, the chance to blithely live regret-free is the fact we never live long enough to witness the full effect of many of our decisions,” Zedalis wrote. “As discomforting as it might be to accept consensus decisions of the scientific community on particular matters, the alternative raises the specter of regression to the Dark Ages’ reliance on the shaman and the soothsayer.”

But don’t worry, Scotty, the Lords of Energy and your other customers will undoubtedly respect you in the morning.

Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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One Comment

  1. Judith Oetinger says:

    Scott Pruitt is disgusting in his pursuit of the almighty dollar for his corporate agenda. All at the expense of future generations. Thank you for your wonderful columns that point this out.

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