Environmental advocates say they are shocked and worried after Donald Trump announced Thursday that he had selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has denied mainstream climate science, to administer his Environmental Protection Agency.
“This is a full-fledged environmental emergency,” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said in a conference call hours after Trump’s announcement. “This is going to be a litmus test for every member of the Senate who claims not to be a denier.”
Schatz, as well as Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., called for their fellow senators to reject Pruitt’s appointment, citing his climate skepticism and close ties to the oil and gas industry.
Merkley encouraged elected officials and grassroots advocates to create a “wave of opposition” to stop Pruitt from ever being confirmed to head the EPA, which he said might as well be renamed the “Environmental Polluter Agency” under his leadership.
“This is a period where there are a lot of dark storm clouds and we are going to be called upon to work vigorously to block a lot of bad things from happening,” Merkley said.
According to the Trump team, Pruitt, 48, is dedicated to rescinding all of Obama’s “job-destroying executive actions” and eliminating barriers to “responsible energy production.” A press release from the transition called him “a national leader against the EPA’s job-killing war on coal.”
The pick was widely seen as confirmation that Trump intended to follow through on his campaign rhetoric of slashing federal regulations to empower coal mining, oil drilling and the fossil fuel industry, in general.
“For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn,” Trump said in a statement.
Pruitt has spent much of his time as Oklahoma’s top prosecutor fighting the agency he’s set to be tasked with running. He repeatedly sued the EPA for — from his perspective — overstepping its bounds with federal regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power stations. His nomination is widely seen as an attack on President Obama’s environmental legacy.
Pruitt has claimed that the scientific debate over climate change is “far from settled.”
“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in the National Review in May.
Schatz characterized Pruitt as a professional climate-change denier who’s made a career out of undermining the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Clean Air Act of 1963. He said he’s optimistic that Pruitt’s nomination can be stopped because the “clean energy revolution” has taken ahold of red states, as well as blue and purple states.
“This is a four-alarm fire. We are going to do everything we can to stop his nomination. And we’re going to need broad-based bipartisan support for that,” Schatz said. “We’re going to make our case and we’re going to fight this with everything we’ve got.”
Whitehouse further argued that Pruitt’s nomination runs absolutely contrary to Trump’s professed strategy of “draining the swamp.”
“This is like filling up the swamp with one of the most determined and aggressive advocates for the fossil fuel industry,” he said.
Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, a leading environmental organization, said Pruitt would be by far the worst administrator in the EPA’s history. He said Pruitt’s appointment would be a classic example of “the fox guarding the henhouse.”
“Mr. Pruitt takes the polluters money and he does their bidding. He’s against clean air. He’s against clean water. He’s unfit for this job and he should be rejected,” Karpinski said.
Trump’s victory against heavily favored Democrat Hillary Clinton was deeply troubling for the environmentalist and scientific communities. He has vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement and repeatedly dismissed climate change as a hoax. But he has also flip-flopped or appeared malleable on many issues, leaving a potential window of hope for environmentalists like Karpinski.
“I suppose you could say hope springs eternal and his comments in the New York Times interview perhaps suggested there was a possibility he’d be different,” Karpinski told Yahoo News on the conference call.
“But [based on] everything he’s said and done in the campaign, it was very clear where he was going to land. And this decision really underscores what he really cares about when it comes to clean air, clean water, public health.”