WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2016 - Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has led legal challenges to key parts of President Obama's regulatory agenda, including the “waters of the United States" rule, and also criticized the Renewable Fuel Standard, has been tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to run the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pruitt, who met with Trump in New York on Wednesday, filed arguments against the RFS in a Supreme Court brief, and he cheered EPA actions that reduced statutory targets for biofuel usage. He called the RFS a “flawed program.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told Agri-Pulse he was thrilled that Trump picked Pruitt. Inhofe said he talks to Pruitt on a weekly basis and described him as “one of my closest friends.” Said Inhofe, "He’s been my best friend on all these over-regulations."
In addition to lawsuits against the WOTUS rule and EPA's greenhouse gas limits on electric utilities, Pruitt has also filed challenges to the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank law, under which the administration has implemented new regulations on the futures market. Pruitt, who was first elected attorney general in 2010, established a “federalism unit” in the state Solicitor General’s office to challenge regulations.
His Linkedin profile describes him as a “national leader in the cause to restore the proper balance of power between the states and federal government.”
Pruitt, who has been open about his support for the state’s oil and gas industry, filed a “friend of the court brief” in a 2013 lawsuit against EPA over the RFS, arguing that using corn for ethanol increased food prices and that the biofuel posed a risk to automobile engines. “The evidence is clear that the current ethanol fuel mandate is unworkable,” Pruitt said.
John Collison, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s vice president of public policy, said that Pruitt’s stance on the RFS reflected his state’s oil and gas base, and that he would take a “fair stance” on biofuels in Washington.
“He’ll work with all these states and I encourage these other states ... to go out there and contact him. He’s a very fair, intelligent man that has been wonderful for all of us in agriculture,” Collison said.
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she was “deeply concerned” about Pruitt, citing in part his opposition to the RFS.
“We were promised a farmer-friendly EPA by President-elect Trump, yet his pick for the agency wants to upend one of the most successful economic drivers in rural America. This appears to be yet another example of the president-elect saying one thing to the American public, and doing another,” Stabenow said.
Pruitt also has been active on animal welfare issues. In 2014, he joined a Missouri-led lawsuit challenging California’s restrictions on hen housing. He subsequently launched a investigation of the Humane Society of the United States, demanding documents related to its fundraising. HSUS later countersued, alleging that Pruitt had abused his power.
Much of the opposition to Pruitt’s nomination will be aimed at his opposition to Obama’s climate policy. He has questioned the Obama administration's scientific and legal basis for attacking climate change and said that the administration should have sought amendments to the Clean Air Act to give the EPA clearer authority to regulate greenhouse gases. “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in a joint op-ed with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to President Obama, posted on his Twitter account that Pruitt was “an existential threat to the planet.”
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also slammed Pruitt.
“The mission of the EPA and its administrator requires an absolute commitment to safeguard public health and protect our air, land, water and planet. That’s the litmus test. By naming Pruitt, President-elect Trump has flunked. The American people did not vote to return the country to the dirty old days or to turn a blind eye on dangerous climate change. If confirmed, Pruitt seems destined for the environmental hall of shame, joining the likes of Anne Gorsuch Burford and James Watt, two disastrous cabinet officials in the 1980s."
But Inhofe said he didn’t expect Pruitt to have problems getting confirmed in the Senate.
Tom Buchanan, the president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said Pruitt “has been a staunch advocate of agriculture and Oklahoma Farm Bureau. He continuously has defended farmers and ranchers against the EPA and has led the charge in suing the agency over its burdensome regulations.”
Thompson runs a cow-calf operation and grows wheat and irrigated cotton near Altus, Oklahoma.
The American Farm Bureau Federation also applauded Trump’s choice.
The selection of Pruitt “is welcome news to America’s farmers and rancher -- in fact, to all who are threatened by EPA’s regulatory overreach -- and should help provide a new degree of fairness for U.S. agriculture,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a release. “We know that in his position as attorney general in Oklahoma, Pruitt has stood up for common-sense, effective regulation that protects the environment and the rights of the regulated community. We have been grateful for his effective legal work in response to EPA’s overreaching Waters of the U.S. Rule.
“We anticipate that as EPA administrator, Pruitt will listen to our concerns and those of others who work with the nation’s natural resources on a daily basis. Agriculture is a profession based on a solid ethic of conservation. It helps guide everything we do, and we expect that Pruitt will understand that in regulatory matters dealing with agriculture and the environment.”
The chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said Pruitt would be an “invaluable asset in resetting the agenda on environmental improvement as we move forward. I look forward to working with the Trump administration and Attorney General Pruitt in bringing our country out of an era of red tape and into a more transparent age based on sound science.”
(Updated at 5:15 p.m. to include AFBF comment.)
Spencer Chase contributed to this report.