A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: EPA chief Pruitt playing games with nation’s health, safety to gain energy industry favor

WASHINGTON – Scott Pruitt, the Kentuckian in charge of what little is left of the Environmental Protection Agency since the Trumpsters took a chainsaw to it, is very much like the pet shop owner in the famous Monty Python “dead parrot’’ sketch.

Confronted by an irritated customer demanding a refund for a rather obviously deceased “Norwegian Blue’’ purchased a half hour earlier, the pet shop owner resists, insisting that the bird is alive and resting, “tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk’’ even though, as the customer insists, “he has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace!’’

Pruitt has assumed the role of that pet shop owner when it comes to global climate change, denying until the last dog — or bird — dies that humans are contributing to earth’s warming, a phenomenon that threatens coastal areas as a result of melting ice, could contribute to increased incidence of disease, attack the food supply, add to the intensity of storms – hello Hurricane Irma — and bring on countless other potential maladies.

Scott Pruitt

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said recently.

There is, of course, no “tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact.’’ It’s established science. And his views are contrary to what was once, at least, the official stance of the EPA, the agency he now heads, as well as the conclusions on global climate change reached by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Pruitt world, the parrot ain’t dead.

Last week, after unusually intense hurricanes hit the American mainland, Pruitt was once again quizzed on the impact of climate change. Scientists believe that warming oceanic conditions – surface water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico were 2.7 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average when Hurricane Harvey arrived and two degrees warmer in the Atlantic for Hurricane Irma – lead to bigger and more destructive storms.

Pruitt waved it off.

“To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced,” told CNN as Irma came roaring in. “To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida.’’

It goes without saying – we’ll say it anyway – that what’s really insensitive, and perilous, is Pruitt’s obtuse refusal to acknowledge that the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal, thus creating massive amounts of carbon dioxide, is a major contributor to climate change, endangering the world.

Rather than address the issue head-on in a constructive manner, Pruitt is headed in the opposite direction, successfully lobbying President Trump to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, kowtowing to Big Energy even when they’re not seeking any favors, gutting the agency he is charged with leading and excising the term “global climate change’’ from just about every official document he can get his hands on.

To a large degree Pruitt is accomplishing his sinister objectives under cover of darkness. While the press in general is understandably focusing on the mounting failures of the Trump administration and the scandals that could ultimately bring the president’s tenure to a premature but welcomed end, Pruitt is proceeding on his merry way, destroying from the inside a once proud agency that has done more to improve America’s welfare since its founding in 1970 than any other agency, foundation or corporation, save perhaps for the Centers for Disease Control, which also finds itself under attack.

In so doing, it’s become obvious that, next to Trump himself, Scott Pruitt, graduate of Lexington Lafayette and former second baseman for the University of Kentucky baseball team, is the most dangerous man in Washington D.C. He is playing games with the nation’s health and safety in order to gain favor with his pals in the energy industry.

The results will be devastating.

While dedicated environmentalists are trying to stop the looming disaster wrought by Pruitt some lawmakers are aiding and abetting his never-ending campaign to soil the nation’s collective nest. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, the Wonder Boy, signed on to legislation earlier this year to do Pruitt’s job for him and abolish the EPA, essentially delivering the task of addressing environmental concerns to the states, who can be expected to bungle the chore as they have before.

The litany of Pruitt’s environmental sins extends far beyond his scandalous climate change notions. Last August, several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed suit in federal court to essentially force Pruitt to do his job.

Pruitt, the NRDC held, had delayed implementation of regulations that would limit air pollution from garbage dumps, including greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The council and its partners acted after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Pruitt’s EPA cannot delay the implementation of regulations adopted during the Obama administration to limit methane leaks in the oil and gas industry.

And the hits keep on coming. The agency is looking to rescind the Clean Water Rule, adopted in 2015, that established which waters and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. The rule holds special significance for the West, where water often is scarce, since it included tributaries even if they flow only part of the year.

“These are public health and climate protections that are important to people’s health and important to stopping climate change,’’ David Doniger, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at NRDC told Inverse, an on-line publication. “The Trump administration and the EPA’s administrator Scott Pruitt are trying to repeal all of these safeguards.’’

And the hits keep on coming. The agency is looking to rescind the Clean Water Rule, adopted in 2015, that established which waters and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. The rule holds special significance for the West, where water often is scarce, since it included tributaries even if they flow only part of the year.

The High Country News magazine further reports that Pruitt is trying to stop a 2016 EPA rule designed to limit emissions of methane from newly installed or modified oil and gas wells from taking effect for two years as industry interests fight it in court.

Environmentalists, along with the states of New Mexico and California, are opposing Pruitt’s efforts. In July a federal appeals court ordered the Trump administration to enforce the methane rule without going through the normal rule-making process.

And, of course, there is the ongoing attack on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants – a major contributor to global climate change — 32 percent by 2030, using 2005 as a base. The U.S. Supreme Court already has stayed that rule.

All this offers just a snapshot of Pruitt’s reign of terror at the EPA and it’s only going to get worse. He appears to be paying as much attention to ethics as the dangers confronting the environment.

He dispensed misinformation about an increase in coal industry jobs during the Trump administration, missing the mark by about 50,000. He has used private email to conduct EPA business, failed to produce past correspondence with his superiors in the oil and gas industries and used taxpayer funds to constantly fly back-and-forth to Oklahoma, where he served as attorney general before taking the EPA job.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that, “Mr. Pruitt is taking extraordinary measures to conceal his actions, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former agency employees.’’

All lessons learned from his rise through the Kentucky educational system. The commonwealth should feel so proud.


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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