Scott Pruitt’s Culture of Corruption Will Cost Americans Hundreds of Billions of Dollars per Year

Scott Pruitt testifies during a confirmation hearing for EPA administrator on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2017.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s wasteful spending violated federal law, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. Specifically, Pruitt’s decision to install a $43,000 secure, soundproof private phone booth in his office was illegal because it was never approved by Congress.

As EPA administrator, Pruitt has spent more than $400,000 in taxpayer dollars on his personal comfort.* This number does not take into account the upward of $3 million that he has spent in security costs—costs that even an internal EPA report deemed unnecessary. The irony of Pruitt’s excessive spending is not lost on Americans, who, just last week, endured another Tax Day. As the nonpartisan, budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense recently wrote, “Taxpayers cannot afford Scott Pruitt.”

Yet Pruitt’s culture of corruption goes far beyond his luxurious lifestyle; it extends to the costs that he is foisting upon everyday Americans by siding with polluters. Pruitt has bragged about saving Americans $1 billion by rolling back what he has sometimes referred to as “costly” regulations. However, by removing critical protections for public health and the environment in order to benefit industry, he will actually end up costing the American people far more each year.

In fact, Center for American Progress analysis found that Pruitt’s attacks will cost Americans more than $260 billion per year.** This cost comes in the form of projected benefits that are lost as a result of Pruitt’s attacks—specifically, adverse health and climate effects that could be avoided if all these rules and regulations were fully implemented. To put this sum in context, $260 billion equates to more than $2,000 in costs annually for every American household.

Administrator Pruitt’s culture of corruption is making Americans pay, both with their wallets and with their health. Here are a number of areas in which Pruitt’s deregulatory actions are costing taxpayers money.

Clean car standards

Cost: Between $5.5 billion and $7.9 billion annually in health and climate impacts. Pruitt recently indicated that he was initiating a rollback process for Obama-era clean vehicle standards that were designed to lower fuel consumption, encourage more efficient cars, and produce cleaner air. This rollback is a big win for the car manufacturing industry but a blow to consumers and their health.

From the CAP Storybank: Hannah Banks, Massachusetts

“I don’t want to go back to a time when you could see, smell, and taste the air. But I fear that under Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, we will. I used to own a 1999 Volkswagen that got 16.16 miles to the gallon in the city. Recently, I rented a Chevy in Los Angeles that got 34 miles to the gallon in the city. If clean car standards were kept in place, Americans could save $3,200 per car and $4,800 per truck over the lifetime of their vehicle. Reducing harmful pollution not only benefits our health, it also saves us money.”

Submitted December 7, 2017

Clean Power Plan

Cost: Between $34 billion and $54 billion annually in health and climate impacts. In October 2017, Pruitt announced that the EPA would repeal the Clean Power Plan in order to “reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens.” On October 16, 2017, the plan was repealed, and in December 2017, Pruitt issued a notice of proposed rule-making, requesting information regarding what should replace it. This rollback will cost Americans up to 3,600 additional premature deaths; 90,000 asthma attacks in children; and 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays each year.

Toxic air pollution from power plants

Cost: Between $33 million and $81 million annually in health impacts. In April 2017, Pruitt’s EPA asked that a case challenging the agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards be delayed, insinuating that the EPA is reconsidering this rule. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause brain damage, especially in small children. This delay could cause an additional 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year.

Air pollution from facility startups and shutdowns

Cost: Between $940 million and $2.3 billion annually in health impacts. Pruitt is indefinitely delaying litigation on a rule designed to ensure that excess emissions during startups, shutdowns, and malfunctions at power plants are not automatically exempted from penalization. Although the rule is still in effect, Pruitt has indicated that the EPA is considering rewriting it. The excess emissions that currently are not penalized could result in up to 270 premature deaths; 1,900 cases of asthma; and 15,000 missed work days each year.

Emissions standards for brick and tile manufacturers

Cost: Between $47 million and $110 million annually in health impacts. In response to concerns raised by the Brick Industry Association and other organizations, Pruitt delayed ongoing litigation over the further implementation of these standards, saying that the EPA planned to reconsider them and finalize new standards in 2019. The current standards place limits on brick and tile manufacturers’ emissions of heavy metals, mercury, and acid gases—all of which are hazardous air pollutants with serious health consequences, including respiratory failure and kidney effects.

Methane pollution from oil and gas facilities

Cost: $690 million annually in climate impacts. In April 2017, the EPA announced that it was reconsidering a 2016 rule that set standards for methane pollution—a greenhouse gas—from oil and gas wells and equipment. On March 1, 2018, the EPA announced two amendments to the rule, one of which eliminates a requirement that oil and gas operators repair methane leaks during unscheduled or emergency shutdowns. Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas.

Methane pollution from solid waste landfills

Cost: $512 million annually in climate impacts. Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the nation. The EPA’s current standards for municipal solid waste landfills—finalized in 2016—reduce methane emissions as well as emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and other hazardous air pollutants that are detrimental to human health. In May 2017, the EPA announced that it is reconsidering these standards on an uncertain timeline.

Ozone air quality standards

Cost: Between $2.9 billion and $5.9 billion annually in health impacts. In June 2017, fearful of “impeding economic growth,” Pruitt opted to delay by one year—to October 2018—the implementation of a rule designating which areas of the country met ozone standards. After attorneys general from 16 states filed a lawsuit challenging the delay, Pruitt was forced to move the deadline back up to November 2017. However, the agency has continued to drag its feet in designating attainment and nonattainment zones. Ozone is a smog-causing gas that is formed largely through emissions from cars and power plants; it has been linked to increased cases of asthma and lung disease.

From the CAP Storybank: Barry Zuckerman, New York

“My wife, my son, and I all have asthma. It’s gotten worse for all of us as the years progress. Particularly during extreme heat and in thick pollution, our asthma controls what we do and where we go. When you roll back safeguards that protect our air, it literally limits our every movement.”

Submitted December 7, 2017

Tailpipe pollution from trucks

Cost: $170 billion annually in additional fuel costs for consumers. In a move that would directly benefit the trucking industry, in November 2017, Administrator Pruitt proposed repealing the greenhouse gas and efficiency standards for trucks. Beyond the increased air pollution that would result from lower efficiency standards, a repeal would mean that consumers would have to shoulder massive fuel costs.

Toxic water pollution from power plants

Cost: Between $451 million and $566 million annually in health impacts. The EPA recently finalized a two-year delay for industry compliance with limits set in September 2015 for toxic pollutants in the water that are discharged from power plants. In the meantime, this delay would allow for unpenalized pollution from these facilities. Such discharges have been known to cause toxic metal accumulation in wildlife and to increase cancer risk in humans.

Toxic coal ash in drinking water

Cost: More than $236 million annually in health impacts. In March 2018, in response to petitions from industry, the EPA proposed weakening parts of a 2015 coal ash rule that set standards for the management and disposal of coal ash, which is generally collected in large impoundments that can rupture and pollute nearby water supplies. Toxic water pollution from coal ash makes water undrinkable and has affected a number of communities near power plants.

Neurotoxic pesticides on food

Cost: $44.7 billion annually in health impacts. In a move that directly benefits Dow Chemical, Pruitt went against the recommendations of EPA scientists when he refused to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that causes brain damage in infants and children. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that the impacts of Pruitt’s refusal to ban chlorpyrifos will result in a collective loss of 1.8 million IQ points in each birth cohort; each IQ point lost translates to a 2 percent reduction in lifetime economic productivity.

Pesticide application safety rule

Cost: Between $13.2 million to $24.3 million annually in health impacts. In June 2017, Pruitt delayed the implementation of a rule intended to protect workers from the most toxic pesticides on the market, significantly increasing the potential risk of exposure, especially for minors. However, the EPA just lost a case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, thereby allowing the rule’s implementation to move forward—for now.

Formaldehyde emissions from wood products

Cost: Between $26 million and $79 million annually in health impacts. Pruitt extended the timeline for industry to comply with this rule, which requires industry to ensure that its wood products do not emit excess formaldehyde through 2024. Meanwhile, exposure to formaldehyde at low levels can cause short term irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; and at high levels, it can even cause cancer.

Conclusion

In his time in office, Pruitt has rolled back or delayed many critical rules that protect Americans’ health—only some of which are highlighted in this column. The significant cost of the health impacts associated with even one of these rollbacks is unacceptable. The cumulative impact, from both a monetary and health standpoint, is disastrous. Pruitt is costing Americans what they truly cannot afford: their health.

Sally Hardin is a research analyst for the Energy and Environment War Room at the Center for American Progress.

The author would like to thank Claire Moser, Alison Cassady, Emily Haynes, and Meghan Miller for their work on this column.

*Author’s note: This estimate was derived through ongoing tracking of all records of his spending, including the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s “Tracking Waste and Abuse in Trump’s Cabinet,” which has not been updated since April 6, 2018, and therefore does not include all of Pruitt’s most recent spending that has only recently come to light—for example more than $85,000 in unauthorized raises for two political appointees at the EPA. The $400,000 includes published costs for all of Pruitt’s first-class flights, which were retrieved from responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by news outlets and additional reporting, particularly regarding his international trips.

**Author’s note: This CAP analysis looked at 14 rules, regulations, or standards that Pruitt has overturned, rolled back, or delayed for reconsideration. For each rule, CAP calculated a cost or cost range based on projected benefits of the original rule that will not accrue if it is rolled back. These benefits were originally calculated by government sources in their regulatory cost benefit analyses of each given rule at the time that the rule was published; these analyses are linked to at the beginning of each section of the column. If the original source applied different discount rates—often used in environmental economics to account for changes in the value of money over time—in order to calculate an annual benefit amount, this analysis used the number found through a 7 percent discount rate, given that this tends to be the most conservative estimate. Thus, the $260 billion figure is a bare minimum that is based on accounting for one year’s worth of benefits for each rule or regulation that would be realized once it was fully implemented. Because this analysis only takes into account 14 regulations that are being delayed or rolled back, this cost estimate is at the very low end of what Pruitt’s policies could be costing Americans. Additionally, the cost per household was calculated by dividing the overall $260 billion by the number of American households in the most recent census.