Last week President-elect Trump nominated a great Oklahoman, Scott Pruitt, as the Administrator of the EPA. Scott is a good lawyer, articulate thought leader, and a master at the sensitive intersection where policy objectives meet legal requirements. Scott knows and believes in the genius of the private sector. Before being elected attorney general, he was elected to the State Senate in November of 1998, serving eight years as a champion for fiscal responsibility and workers’ compensation reform. He was formerly a collegiate baseball player for the University of Kentucky, and in 2004, then-Senator Pruitt returned to his baseball roots by becoming an owner of a Triple-A baseball team, the Oklahoma City RedHawks. Under his leadership, the franchise increased attendance by 25% and broke the all-time record for season attendance in 2005. Because of Scott’s leadership in protecting the state’s right to govern, he has actively fought federal regulations that sought to overreach in a variety of policy areas, including the environment. He also defended states rights under the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Act, as well filed a brief in support of Hobby Lobby in their fight over their religious beliefs in the workplace. Regardless of your views on these various acts by the federal government, his response has been a stance based on federalism principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. It is why he created Oklahoma’s first “Federalism Unit” in the AG’s Office to assist in the fight to restore the balance of power between the states and federal government.
The Obama administration has bogged EPA in a litigation quagmire through a series of regulatory initiatives that lacked statutory and or scientific basis. Astutely in response, President-elect Trump as tapped a policy leader with a superb grasp of how to pursue objectives through the thicket of litigation and administrative procedures that are the battlefield of environmental regulatory policy.
To understand the potential in nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead EPA, look beyond his legal advocacy to his attributes as a great administrator, thoughtful legislator, and successful businessman. EPA needs responsible leadership to restore the confidence and respect the agency should have. Today, EPA is an agency in chaos. Rasmussen polls show only 32% of Americans have confidence in the EPA, the lowest level since they started asking the question. When the previous administrator took the reins in 2013, the agency was already a scandal-ridden mess. Environmental Protection Agency’s highest-paid employee and a leading expert on climate change was pleading guilty to pretending to be a CIA agent, bilking taxpayers as part of the scam. Less than a year later, it was discovered that EPA employees were widely misusing government-issued credit cards to make non-work related purchases. An inspector general report identified sexual harassment and other violations, yet little action was taken by the agency management to address these issues. They oversaw the infamous toxic spill that poured millions of gallons of waste into the Colorado’s Animas River, contaminating the drinking water for thousands of residents because of simple incompetence by an EPA contractor. Contrary to law, EPA engaged in outright lobbying of the congress and public, spending taxpayer dollars in support of their WOTUS regulation. Most recently, the EPA Inspector General said the agency was complicit in drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Agency leadership was so busy trying to create new law through regulation in so many areas they lost focus on their mission to protect the public health and manage their agency appropriately within existing law.
The new Administrator should return EPA to its mission to protect human health and the environment as specified by law. In so doing, Scott Pruitt can restore public confidence and cooperate in revival of the American economy. Link to EPA Mission Statement: https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/our-mission-and-what-we-do