The Ten Worst Things Scott Pruitt’s EPA Has Already Done

  • Verified emissions from a company’s industrial expansion are what the company says they are. (Now the EPA will simply take estimates at face value.) (PDF[27])
  • Blocked a potentially disastrous mining operation[28] in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. (The mine will now go forward, though a single leak could devastate the world’s largest sockeye salmon population.)
  • Required the tracking of methane emissions (this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court[29]).
  • Required data collection of emissions from oil and gas companies.
  • Monitored fracking.
  • Required companies to disclose which hazardous chemicals they’re storing.
  • Protected tributaries of sensitive bodies of water (even though the EPA’s analysis showed it would cost less to prevent the pollution than to allow it). (PDF[30])
  • Set tighter emissions standards for trucks.
  • Banned the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos.

Still under rollback review are restrictions on smog[31], coal ash, mining waste, mercury, and benzene pollution. Even the popular Energy Star appliance certification program has been slated for reduction.

3. The Clean Power Plan

Power plants account for approximately 35 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. Without tackling power plants, you can’t address climate change. And without unified federal action, you can’t address power plants.

The “Clean Power Plan” was born on Aug. 3, 2015, when it was finalized by President Obama’s EPA, and it died on March 28, 2017, when President Trump called for a “review.” To no one’s surprise, in October, the EPA recommended a total repeal[32].

It’s hard to overestimate how important and game-changing[33] the Clean Power Plan was. It called for a 32 percent reduction in power-plant carbon emissions by 2030. It offered incentives for investment in renewable energy, creating thousands of jobs. It set state-by-state targets that took into account each state’s unique needs. And now it’s dead.

2. The War on Science

In the era of alternative facts, it’s no surprise that science, the scientific method, and scientists have all come under attack at Pruitt’s EPA.

To take one example, Pruitt’s climate denialism (more on this later) defies the unanimous consent of the scientific community, choosing the fake science of fake think tanks like the Heartland Institute, which regularly churns out bogus scientific reports to create the perception that there is significant disagreement about climate change.

Another example was Pruitt’s decision[34] that scientists who have received EPA funding within three years can no longer serve on the agency’s 12 scientific advisory committees. While that may sound like a smart conflict-of-interest provision, its actual effect will be to exclude the majority of scientific experts from serving on the committees, and to replace them with industry “experts” instead.

For good measure, Pruitt has also defied economics as well. In fact, renewable energy generates more jobs than fossil fuel energy, but Pruitt endlessly repeats the lie that regulatory rollbacks are needed to save jobs.

All this has happened away from the spotlight. “To the average person,” said Holstein, the EPA “seems like a murky government agency and nobody really knows how it works. But everyone who is familiar with it knows that its science and technology capabilities are at the heart of its success in protecting all of us from pollution.”

1. Climate Change Denial

Finally, in terms of real-world consequences, there’s nothing that tops climate change[35]. The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 people will die each year[36] between 2030-2050 from factors directly attributable to climate change. That doesn’t even count the mass migration crises that rising sea levels and changing crop zones will bring about. There is full scientific consensus that human emissions are warming the planet; over a five-year period, 928 peer-reviewed articles affirmed this fact, while zero opposed it[37].

Pruitt has stuck the EPA’s head in the scientific sand. The phrase “climate change” has been erased from the agency website. Any offices working on climate change have been closed or reassigned. Pruitt has even created a blacklist of EPA employees who had worked or published on the issue. Meanwhile, Pruitt claims to have advised Trump to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, which he did, even though the rest of the world has signed it[38] and is moving forward without the U.S.

Nor is Pruitt alone. His chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, was previously the chief for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who calls climate change a “hoax.” Pruitt has also hired Inhofe aide Byron Brown to serve as his deputy.

Pruitt has gotten in a little trouble for these actions. After stating on CNBC that “I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” the EPA inspector general referred the matter[39] to the EPA’s scientific integrity officer, Francesca Grifo, since EPA officials are required to reflect scientific consensus in their comments. (In response, a right-wing group demanded an investigation[40] of Grifo.)

But there’s little that can stop Pruitt’s anti-science crusade, absent congressional action, which, with the present Congress, seems highly unlikely. After going through some of this litany with the EDF’s Holstein, I asked him if there was anything that any of us could or should do.

Holstein said the most important actions to watch for in 2018 may be in the obscure realms of budget cuts and regional office closures. “There are also a lot of things we’ll be looking at in terms of whether administration will lower the hurdle for pollutants, reduce enforcement at EPA and at the Justice Department, and try to dial the budget down at NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which often studies climate change] and other science agencies.”

When I asked if there was any hope, given the awful news from 2017, Holstein took the long view. “What I say to people who want to give up is: Don’t do it,” he said. “We have built over the last 40 to 50 years a bipartisan national legacy of bedrock environmental protections and safeguards and we should fight for them. The fact that President Trump and Administrator Pruitt would like to help polluters avoid responsibility doesn’t change one bit the fact that we have nearly a half century of national and public commitment to a cleaner environment and healthier communities.”

Besides, Holstein added, “we have a great deal at stake.”


  1. ^ judiciary (
  2. ^ Medicare and Social Security (
  3. ^ Scott Pruitt (
  4. ^ Prioritize polluters’ freedom over personal freedom (
  5. ^ he lied to Congress (
  6. ^ cut and pasted a letter written by oil giant Devon Energy (
  7. ^ taxpayer-paid travel bills (
  8. ^ flimsiest of pretexts (
  9. ^ fly to Morocco to promote fossil fuels (
  10. ^ a shady PR firm (
  11. ^ previously done “opposition research” on journalists (
  12. ^ deliberate anarchy (
  13. ^ Enforcement actions (
  14. ^ PDF (
  15. ^ it’s the agency itself. (
  16. ^ 6 million pounds of pollution (
  17. ^ chemical plant exploded (
  18. ^ increased the frequency of extreme weather events (
  19. ^ unprecedented secrecy (
  20. ^ Freedom of Information Act requests (
  21. ^ implemented gag rules (
  22. ^ costing taxpayers $830,000 (
  23. ^ taking his orders from the polluters he’s meant to regulate (
  24. ^ The New York Times (
  25. ^ Devon Energy (
  26. ^ slap on the wrist (
  27. ^ PDF (
  28. ^ potentially disastrous mining operation (
  29. ^ overturned by the Supreme Court (
  30. ^ PDF (
  31. ^ smog (
  32. ^ recommended a total repeal (
  33. ^ how important and game-changing (
  34. ^ decision (
  35. ^ there’s nothing that tops climate change (
  36. ^ 250,000 people will die each year (
  37. ^ zero opposed it (
  38. ^ the rest of the world has signed it (
  39. ^ referred the matter (
  40. ^ demanded an investigation (

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