As Scott Pruitt’s confirmation to run the Environmental Protection Agency nears, environmentalists are preparing for the worst — a new era of unchecked emissions, widespread pollution, and an unraveling of the global fight against climate change.
“The Trump administration has let the fossil fuel industry hijack the EPA in broad daylight,” said May Boeve, 350.org Executive Director, said in a statement. “It’s despicable but not surprising that members of Trump’s party want a climate denier running the EPA. Pruitt built his career trying to tear the EPA apart, sowing doubt about climate change along the way.”
But some solace can be taken from the fact that Pruitt can’t simply bulldoze the agency. There are systems in place that prevent such partisan zeal.
When Trump nominated Pruitt to lead the EPA, it was seen as tantamount to appointing a fox to guard the henhouse. As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt spent the past decade waging a legal war against the EPA, backing more than a dozen lawsuits against regulations such as air and water pollution limits. He has developed a close relationship with the fossil fuel industry and his EPA nomination was championed by the fracking titan Harold Hamm who was on Trump’s transition team.
All of this opposition has given him an intimate understanding of the EPA, the intricacies of how it operates, what its weak spots are, and what can and can’t be dismantled.
This awareness will inform his “surgical” approach to the agency, The New York Times reports.
Rather than ripping up many of Obama’s signature environmental regulations, which would be extremely difficult to do, Pruitt intends to limit their scope by rewriting them.
Some of his targets will be:
Laying off large numbers of the agency’s staff. Initial estimates from the Trump transition team called for a staff reduction from 15,000 to 5,000. But the actual reduction will be less severe, the Times reports.
Reducing the number of limits President Obama put on carbon pollution that would have led to the closure of most the country’s coal plants.
Scale back the recently updated Clean Water Act, which prevents industry from polluting air, water, and land.
Redirect the enforcement priorities of the agency.
Reduce and reallocate the EPA budget.
While these actions are clearly not as severe as abolishing the agency, they go a long way toward neutering environmental regulations in the US and scaling back the country’s global leadership on climate change.
Done effectively, they can also lock in industry-friendly policies for decades to come, according to The Times.
At a time when action on climate change is more urgent than ever, deep restructuring of the EPA to favor the fossil fuel industry could ultimately amount to the same as taking a bulldozer to the agency.