Liberals and the environmental left have gone into a tizzy over the selection of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as Donald Trump’s pick to head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi says the Pruitt nomination must be blocked “for the sake of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we will leave our children.” New York AG Eric Schneiderman says Pruitt is a “dangerous and an unqualified choice.” Independent socialist senator Bernie Sanders declares the Pruitt pick is not only dangerous but also “sad.” The League of Conservation Voters calls Pruitt not just a global warming skeptic but “an outright climate denier.”
Whew! That’s strong stuff. But what is Pruitt’s actual offense? He has challenged the EPA’s practice of going far beyond its authority to attack the energy industry and thus affect practically every industry in the country. The EPA needs a leash, and Pruitt and other state attorneys general have gone to court to attach it.
Pruitt, 48, is a sharp critic of President Obama’s “exceeding” of federal law in environmental and other cases. “He’s kept his promise that Washington knows best,” Pruitt told me in 2013. But Obama’s executive orders are “not consistent with our Constitution and our rule of law.”
He and Greg Abbott, then AG of Texas and now the state’s governor, succeeded in voiding a dubious EPA rule that claimed air pollution from Texas and Oklahoma was harming Granite City, Illinois. In that case and others, EPA’s evidence was pretty skimpy.
Even worse in the view of the environmental lobby, Pruitt is a leader in the effort, so far successful, to block the Clean Power Plan and the vast change it would require in how electricity is produced. The plan violates “at least three separate statutory bars and two constitutional limitations on federal powers,” Pruitt’s lawsuit to overturn the plan says.
On a 4-4 vote, the Supreme Court in February upheld a stay issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., while the appellate court is hearing the Clean Power Plan case on its merits. Oklahoma and 27 other states oppose the plan. In his brief, Pruitt said the plan was designed to work “at a breakneck speed” to “fundamentally restructure” the electric power industry in ways that “will be difficult or impossible to reverse” even if the plan itself is struck down.
Pruitt has “worked closely with the fossil fuel industry,” Sanders says, as if that is sufficient to disqualify for the EPA post. Yes, he has. He’s the attorney general of Oklahoma, a fossil fuel state. He’s worked to protect that industry from crushing regulatory orders by the EPA.
Schneiderman’s claim that Pruitt is unqualified for the EPA job is wrong. And that’s not the real objection of the environmental crows. Their problem with Pruitt is that he’s too qualified. He knows environmental law as well or better than they, particularly its limits.
Calling Pruitt “a climate denier” is silly shorthand. Climate simply exists. Like many others, what Pruitt sees as a problem is the EPA’s desire for an upheaval in “the generation, transmission, and regulation of electricity” in favor of premature switch to wind, solar, and non-fossil sources to generate power.
Free-market groups are much happier with the Pruitt choice. “With the choice of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency – a man who has fought to uphold federalism, the limits placed upon the federal government in the Constitution, and sound policy on energy and environmental issues – it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” said H. Sterling Bennett at the Heartand Institute in a statement.
Chris Warren at the American Energy Alliance says Pruitt “has been a champion for consumers and working-class families in Oklahoma. We know he will do the same for all Americans as EPA Administrator. AG Pruitt will reset energy and environmental policy in ways that will grow the economy, improve the environment, and make life better for the American people.”
The furor over his nomination sets the stage for a contentious confirmation hearing. It will pit Trump, with Pruitt as his surrogate, against the environmental lobby, one of the most powerful special interests in America.