In less than a year as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt has already shown he has no intentions of protecting the environment or health of Americans. Not only has he not been proactive in promoting or enacting beneficial policies, but he’s shown he’s actively hellbent on destroying and undermining objective scientific research and sustainable policy.
Don’t like the weather? Wait a few hours. Don’t like the current administration? Wait a few years. Executive orders can be tossed out in an instant, laws can be changed or repealed, long-held traditions can be ignored or can slowly evolve, and even the Constitution can be re-interpreted or amended with enough effort. You may do some ideological damage, but that doesn’t mean things can’t be changed back later.
However, there is one realm of influence our government exerts power over in which there’s no “reset” or “do-over” system: natural systems. Natural systems do not operate according to our political or organizational philosophies. If deep groundwater systems are polluted, they’ll remain polluted for thousands of years. If the soil is eroded, it’s eroded for good. If species go extinct, they’re gone. Raise the temperature 2 degrees Celsius, and there’s no takeback. No popular majority or opinion poll can change any of this.
This means that of all the politicians, bureaucrats, and decision makers in Washington right now, if we’re going to be cursing anyone now or in the long distant future, it should be the one who makes the decisions we will be able to do the least about in the future. In this case, it is Scott Pruitt, the hypocritical, uneducated, unspecialized fox-in-the-henhouse pretending to manage the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The level of “Captain Planet Saturday morning cartoon villain” he has achieved in such a short time is impressive in its own right, I suppose. For example, in September, he directed $25,000 dollars to building a soundproof booth in his headquarters in which he can communicate secretly with any outside groups without being overheard by other EPA employees. Just consider his clearly exhibited allegiances: as of October, Pruitt had only met with environmentalist groups five times (<1 percent of total meetings). He pads his time meeting with private energy executives and conservative lobbyists, most of which are at his home in Oklahoma. These are not groups who are concerned with the protection of the environment. His conflict of interest has always been an issue—when he was appointed EPA chief, Pruitt was personally involved in 14 lawsuits against the very agency he was supposed to be heading up. This lack of transparency, disregard of the American people’s interests, and strange kinship with anti-conservationist organizations makes Pruitt the embodiment of “the swamp” (not to disparage actual swamps, of course, which are beautiful, vibrant ecosystems).
Under his direction, 52 important protections have been rolled back or are in administrative limbo. Among those important industry standards and operational rules are regulations that protect our public lands, greenhouse gas thresholds, sensitive marine areas, national monuments, endangered species, and chemical emissions that could seriously harm all of us. He has disregarded native voices, sound scientific toxicological studies, and vast majority interests to protect natural spaces. He even rolled back flood protection standards immediately before major hurricanes ravaged our coasts earlier this year.
Pruitt will certainly appear in American history textbooks (and on the exams, too) primarily for two self-inflicted wounds to American and human interests: first, for failing to respond to the threat of climate change. This is marked most notably by his encouragement of American retreat from the Paris Accord. The United States is currently the only nation in the world not a part of the agreement. This “us-against-the-world” mentality isn’t based on some deep-rooted moral stance, it’s just pseudoscience and propaganda that ignores well-established climate facts. It’s embarrassing to American leadership and sends a message that we’re no longer capable of having international responsibility. Additionally, his international addresses as a proponent for increased fossil-fuel extraction and burning (acting as a well-trained lap dog for the energy lobbyists that pad his pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars) make us look like the dinosaurs whose carbon we’re putting back into the atmosphere. His role in eliminating the Clean Power Plan won’t be overlooked in a +2℃ world, either. The CCP is the only rule that regulated greenhouse gas emissions from major plants as permitted by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts vs. EPA in 2007. Delaying energy reliance and modernization will create major economic burdens for future Americans; subsidizing coal and fossil fuels, despite rising and increasingly viable alternative energy sources, is like trying to bail out typewriter companies.
Secondly, replacing scientists with politicians and industry lobbyists on scientific advisory boards creates serious decay on the already deteriorating relationship our government has with objective reality. Removing scientists from scientific councils that advise lawmakers on environmental and human health will kill people. Increased and unmitigated pollution, under-regulated chemical pesticides and marketplace products, and fewer water safeguards will kill people. These are not matters of opinion—we can study and reliably project the effects of using pesticides like chlorpyrifos, for example, and we know it will increase American deaths, especially among children. Reducing scientific investigation into these problems, choking publication of their findings, and favoring lobbyists on advisory boards will have real effects now and in the future, and it sets a nasty precedent for future agency administrators. Undoing Pruitt’s attacks on the scientific method in government will likely not be the work of any single administration.
Hopefully, Pruitt won’t outdo himself and find more novel ways of maligning sustainability, health, environmental justice, and common sense overall. But to be honest, if I trust anything about him, it’s his ability to find even more ridiculous ways to flaunt his incomprehensibly vast know-nothingness and outright malignancy.
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