In his first public pronouncement since being confirmed as the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt said that growing both jobs and the economy while also promoting the environment are consistent with one another.
He said that today’s political environment is “toxic,” which is “damaging” to the “overall objective to finding answers.”
The goal, he continued, is to find solutions — not to shirk responsibilities. “As we do our work here, we deal with very important and monumental issues.” But it needs to be done with civility while also being thoughtful.
Pruitt said he would seek to be a good listener. He said he wants to “dig down deep” and to be a resource as EPA’s employees do their work. “I seek to listen, learn and lead.”
Process matters, he continued: “Regulations ought to make things regular.” He said that businesses expect regulatory certainty so they can plan and allocate resources to comply. Conducting business in this manner sends a message — that the agency takes seriously its role to make informed decisions.
“We need to avoid abuses,” he said. “We need to be open and transparent.
“As we do rule-making — as we engage in process — it needs to be tethered to the statute,” he said.
The goal, he said, is to avoid litigation. It results in better outcomes.
To that end, he said that Congress has given the states more leeway to draw their own conclusions — to engender their trust and to see the federal government as partners, not adversaries.
We can be both pro-energy and pro jobs, he said. We can protect the natural resources while protecting economic growth, he emphasizes.
Parsing the speech, though, is in the eye of the beholder. Environmentalists are unconvinced, noting that Pruitt has sued EPA 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general. They also point out that the state regulatory bodies don’t have the muscle that the federal government does — that some state’s are biased toward their domestic industry, giving them greater latitude to craft the laws of those states.
In Oklahoma, for instance, the state’s economy is dependent on the health of the oil and gas industries. They contribute to the campaigns of state legislators and office holders. And by extension, they help write the laws there — rules that may not adhere to federal standards.
Meantime, the whole notion of regulatory certainty has been critiqued. Proponents of the Obama administration are arguing that global economies are transitioning to low-carbon fuels and that industries are adapting. They say that the Clean Power Plan attempted to make things “regular” while the Trump administration’s EPA is a throwback to bygone era.
The speech was not an easy one for Pruitt to give. While his immediate audience was polite and respectful, EPA employees have protested the nomination of Pruitt to head EPA. Last Friday, he won largely along party lines by a vote of 52 to 46.
And Pruitt’s appointment comes just as the Trump administration is preparing to write executive orders to curb the Clean Power Plan that seeks to cut carbon by 32% by 2030. Pruitt was the lead plaintiff in lawsuits to overturn that rule-making. It is considered by many to be the major environmental accomplishment of the Obama administration.