Next month will mark one year for Scott Pruitt as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While Pruitt and his team have maintained that he is “solely focused on implementing President Donald Trump’s agenda to protect the environment,” his actions contradict these words.
Rather than upholding the mission of the EPA, Pruitt has continued the pattern he established as the attorney general for Oklahoma, where he sued the EPA 14 times and worked “arm and arm” with the fossil fuel industry. As Politico reported in a review of his actions last year, “Pruitt has rolled back or stalled environmental protections, given the fossil fuel and chemistry industries more sway over public health decisions and taken steps that critics fear will undermine work on pollution cleanups.”
According to a review by the Center for American Progress, in his nearly 12 months in office, Pruitt has taken more than 39 actions to undermine the nation’s public health and environmental protections—despite paying lip service to the agency’s mission.
Here are five ways Pruitt is saying one thing and doing the other.
1. Pruitt’s actions don’t reflect a commitment to scientific integrity
“I am committed to holding up the E.P.A.’s scientific integrity policy, which ensures that the agency’s scientific work is of the highest quality, is presented openly and with integrity and is free from political interference.”
The New Republic estimates that the Trump administration has attempted to “limit government scientific information once every week.” Pruitt’s EPA is no exception. Since starting at the EPA, Pruitt has taken at least nine major actions to undermine scientific integrity at the agency. Pruitt has taken steps to block scientific experts from advising the EPA and sharing expertise; fire members of the EPA’s science advisory board; stack scientific advisory boards with industry allies; politicize environmental reviews and the grant-making process; debate settled climate science; scrub climate change from agencies’ strategic documents; and advocate for a budget that drastically cuts the agency’s workforce and critical scientific programs.
2. Pruitt has failed to keep his promise to ‘prioritize’ Superfund cleanups
“Getting toxic land sites cleaned up and revitalized is of the utmost importance to the communities across the country that are affected by these sites.”
In his first months at the EPA, Pruitt promised to prioritize the cleanup of our nation’s most toxic sites, known as Superfund sites. Despite this commitment, Pruitt proposed a budget that would cut the EPA’s Superfund program by nearly one-third; threatened to end the EPA’s funding of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Superfund enforcement activities; and failed to assess immediate health risks after Hurricane Harvey flooded Superfund sites in Houston and Puerto Ricans began drinking water from Superfund sites after Hurricane Maria. Notably, Pruitt hired Albert Kelly—a longtime friend banned from the banking industry and with no experience in toxic waste—to run a task force to streamline the Superfund program.
3. Pruitt has taken 15 major actions that will worsen air quality
“I look forward to him joining EPA to help us implement our positive environmental agenda and administer programs that ensure that Americans have access to clean air.”
Pruitt has said that the EPA “can and … will achieve clean air” as part of his so-called “Back-to-Basics” agenda. In his first year, however, Pruitt has moved aggressively to weaken clean air protections. Pruitt has taken action to delay health-based air quality standards for ozone pollution; slowwalk litigation over limits on toxic air pollution from power plants; stop disciplining companies that underestimate pollution from new facilities and thereby skirt permitting requirements; allow industrial facilities to release unlimited pollution during startup and shutdown; repeal guidelines for air pollution from oil and gas drilling; delay requirements that states reduce pollution that causes regional haze; and attempt to undo limits on greenhouse gas emissions and toxic pollution from power plants, cars, trucks, nonroad diesel engines, brick and tile manufacturers, landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and oil and gas operations.
4. Pruitt continues to undo basic protections for the nation’s clean water
“We can and we will achieve clean air and clean water and we will also have strong economic growth and job creation at the same time.”
Pruitt has also taken steps to undo basic protections for the United States’ clean water. Pruitt immediately moved to revise or even revoke a rule that protects drinking water for more than one-third of Americans and even appeared in an industry video asking ranchers to support the agency’s efforts. Pruitt also has taken steps to allow power plants and coal mines to discharge toxic pollution into waterways; ended the agency’s plans to hold hardrock mining companies financially accountable for their pollution; and reversed a decision to protect the Bristol Bay Watershed in Alaska from a massive mine.
5. Pruitt is prioritizing polluting industries at the expense of public health and worker safety
“These are issues that go directly to the health of our citizens that should be the absolute focus of this agency.”
Pruitt has ignored scientific recommendations to undo commonsense protections needed to keep workers, children, and families safe. In his first year, Pruitt delayed a rule to protect workers and first responders from chemical facility accidents; delayed a rule to limit worker exposure to the most toxic pesticides on the market; announced new toxic chemical policies that could allow dangerous chemicals to enter the market; delayed previously proposed bans of high-risk uses of three hazardous chemicals; and delayed compliance deadlines for a rule to reduce cancer-causing formaldehyde emissions from wood products. Perhaps most egregiously, Pruitt ignored the recommendations of agency scientists and overturned a ban on chlorpyrifos, a dangerous pesticide that can harm brain development in children.
To celebrate his first year at the helm of the EPA, Administrator Pruitt placed large posters throughout the agency’s headquarters touting “A Year of Great Environmental Achievements for America.” At the top of the list, Pruitt promoted eliminating the Clean Power Plan and clean water rules—rather than specific metrics showing improvements in air and water quality. He also listed “cleaning up contaminated sites” as a key achievement, even though it was the Obama administration that completed the cleanups before Pruitt ever took office. One former EPA official noted, “All of his posters brag about removing public health and safety protections.”
Pruitt told the Wall Street Journal that he plans to accelerate his deregulatory agenda in 2018. His actions will speak louder than his posters or words.
Claire Moser is the director of the Energy and Environment War Room at the Center for American Progress. Alison Cassady is the managing director of Energy and Environment Policy at the Center.