Trump Taps Pruitt to Head EPA

By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is President-elect Donald Trump’s selection to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Associated Press and a number of other major media outlets reported Wednesday.

Farmers and ranchers who have been concerned for years about what they perceive as an ever-increasing weight of regulations including the waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule may be pleased with Trump’s selection. On the other hand, Pruitt has been an outspoken critic of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Pruitt led a number of states in filing one of many lawsuits against EPA challenging the WOTUS rule as an unconstitutional power grab. A federal court put the rule on hold nationally pending a number of legal challenges.

It is widely believed the Trump administration would eliminate the rule.

On the biofuels front, the next EPA head will determine the future of the RFS. The oil and gas industry has generally called for repeal or reform of the RFS.

Pruitt has been an open critic of the RFS and has ties to the oil and gas industry.

In 2013, Pruitt was supportive of EPA’s decision to lower renewable volume obligations in the RFS. It was the first time the agency made the decision to lower RVOs.

In March 2013, Pruitt filed a friend of the court brief in an RFS lawsuit. In that filing, Pruitt said increasing ethanol volumes posed a risk to vehicle fuel systems.

"The evidence is clear that the current ethanol fuel mandate is unworkable," Pruitt said in a press statement in 2013. "The decision by the EPA to lower that standard is good news for Oklahoma consumers. It’s good the administration finally recognized the concerns of consumers and a variety of industries and took steps to correct this flawed program."

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement Pruitt’s selection is "welcome news to America’s farmers and ranchers — 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."

Duvall said as attorney general in Oklahoma Pruitt stood for "common-sense, effective regulation that protects the environment and the rights" of the regulated community.

"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."

Pruitt appears to have ties to the oil industry, as evident by 84 pages of emails posted on the New York Times’ website between Pruitt and lobbyists for Devon Energy based in Oklahoma: http://nyti.ms/…. However, according to OpenSecrets.org, Pruitt has made no monetary contributions to oil industry interests.

Scott Segal, head of Bracewell’s Policy Resolution Group, a Washington, D.C., oil and gas lobbying group, said Pruitt is a good selection.

"I have watched Scott Pruitt develop over his six years as Oklahoma attorney general into a measured and articulate student of environmental law and policy," Segal said in a statement.

"The office he headed was present and accounted for in the battle to keep EPA faithful to its statutory authority and respectful of the role of the states in our system of cooperative federalism. These skills will serve him well not only in leading EPA but also in participating meaningfully in the legislative and regulatory reform efforts promised by the next administration. Given that we are almost two decades overdue for an overhaul of the Clean Air Act, there is interest on both sides of the aisle to look at that statute."

Environmental groups were not impressed with the selection, to say the least, taking a jab at rural voters who supported Trump in the election.

Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement Wednesday that a Pruitt-led EPA would set back environmental progress in rural areas.

"Many of the counties and regions that voted for Mr. Trump have some of the dirtiest air and water in the country, and with Mr. Pruitt as head of the EPA, it will get even worse for those communities," Cook said. "Nobody voted for dirty air and water — including the millions who supported Trump, but that’s what Americans will get under a Pruitt EPA.

"There has been no bigger antagonist from the states against efforts to protect public health than Pruitt."

According to the Oklahoma AG’s website, Pruitt was elected as the 17th attorney general of the state of Oklahoma on Nov. 2, 2010.

"He is dedicated to fighting corruption, protecting Oklahoma’s vulnerable citizens, championing public safety measures to reduce violent crime and advocating excellence in the administration of the law, justice and protecting the interests of the great state of Oklahoma and its citizens," the website said.

Pruitt has "led the charge with repeated notices and subsequent lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their leadership’s activist agenda and refusal to follow the law," the website said.

Pruitt also has been part of the legal battle against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

He was openly supportive of the Obama administration’s plan to cancel plans to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened or endangered.

"The Obama administration’s unlawful attempt to list the lesser prairie chicken as an endangered species was not based on sound science but a hastily put together effort by federal agencies, colluding with environmental groups, to engage in ‘sue-and-settle’ tactics designed to stifle oil and gas exploration in Oklahoma and other states," Pruitt said in a statement.

"That is why I brought suit challenging the listing, and arguing that science and facts-on-the-ground unequivocally prove the chicken is not endangered, and that the state’s conservation efforts are working. I’m pleased to report that the federal government has finally realized the error of its ways and has ended its efforts to list the bird as endangered."

In 2014, Pruitt’s office filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service alleging the USFWS engaged in sue-and-settle tactics when the agency agreed to settle with a national environmental group on the listing of several animal species.

In May 2016 Pruitt’s office filed a friend of the court brief in support of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to be built across the Nebraska Sandhills, raising concerns among farmers and ranchers.

Pruitt is a native of Lexington, Kentucky, where he graduated high school and earned a scholarship to play baseball as a second baseman at the University of Kentucky.

Pruitt earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and political science at Georgetown College before being accepted to the University of Tulsa, college of law.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

(AG/ES)