Last Friday’s 56-42 Senate vote confirmation of Scott Pruitt as top EPA administrator brings a very unwelcome political climate change for many of the agency’s 15,000 federal career employees and their executive branch-appointed bosses who fought his approval tooth and claw.
Referring to their aggressive and defiant letter-writing and telephone campaign protesting Pruitt’s appointment, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University Director James Thurber told the New York Times, “It is rare…I can’t think of any other time when people in the bureaucracy have done this.”
The vast majority of those protesters are Civil Service employees who can’t be fired. Recognizing this, former George W. Bush administration EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman commented, “What it means is that it’s going to be a blood bath when Pruitt gets in there.”
Red meat prompting this fear and loathing attack has been served up as the former Oklahoma attorney general sued to block EPA environmental regulations at least 14 times, questions any credible scientific evidence of a human-caused climate crisis, and opposes the Obama Administration EPA’s costly climate alarm-predicated energy regulatory policies that circumvent legislative oversight.
Branded by opponents as a “climate denier” and “oil and gas shill,” Pruitt told hostile Democrat Senate confirmation hearing inquisitors and others present what he really thinks.
Pruitt accused the EPA of overstepping its authority, saying that it has “bootstrapped its own powers and tools through rule making,” and through prearranged-outcome, “sue and settle” deals with friendly litigants. His policies would rely more upon states rather than federal officials to be “our nation’s front-line environmental implementers and enforcers.”
Pruitt sided with farmers, ranchers, and small business owners who have felt “hopeless, subject to a never-ending torrent of new regulations that only a lawyer can understand.” He said that “They fear the EPA, and that just shouldn’t be the case.” He promised to “work tirelessly to ensure that the EPA acts lawfully, sensibly, and with those hardworking Americans ever in mind.”
In an exchange with Bernie Sanders (I-VT), he conceded that, “The climate’s changing and human activity contributes to that in some manner,” but that the degree of that contribution is “subject to more debate.”
Regarding energy policies, he said that under his leadership, the agency would stop “picking winners and losers.” Pruitt expects to quickly withdraw from the Obama EPA’s so-called “Clean Power Plan” (CPP). He would also terminate a 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule that asserts EPA power over virtually every creek, farm pond, or drainage ditch with a significant nexus to a “navigable waterway.”
Pruitt explained: “There’s a very simple reason why this needs to happen…Because the courts have seriously called into question the legality of those rules.” Pruitt should know, since he was a party to lawsuits which led to a Supreme Court stay on CPP and an appeal court’s hold on the water rule.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s February 11 keynote address remarks at Claremont Institute event clearly support the new EPA administrator’s legal positions. As Alito stated: “The Clean Air Act was enacted by Congress way back in 1970, and it regulates the emission of ‘pollutants’ – that’s the term in the statute.”
Justice Alito pointed out that, “When Congress authorized the regulation of pollutants, what it had in mind were substances like sulfur dioxide, or particulate matter — basically, soot or smoke in the air. Congress was not thinking about carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.” He warned that, “Now, if the administrative agency [EPA] can do that, I don’t know what an administrative agency cannot do. Lawmaking power has been transferred from Congress to the executive.”
Referring to the CPP, the Supreme Court Justice told the audience that, “…a policy of this importance should have been decided by elected representatives of the people in accordance with the Constitution and not by unelected members of the judiciary and bureaucrats.” He added, “But that is the system we have today, and it is a big crack in our constitutional structure.”
Alito spoke of “…a massive shift of lawmaking from the elected representatives of the people to unelected bureaucrats” which has “produced an enormous increase in regulations that we have experienced with all of the attendant effects on our economy.”
Citing the EPA’s water rule as an example, Alito said that it was based upon an obscure legal interpretation which nobody, including Congress, understood. Assuming it meant rivers and lakes, he asked, “But what about a stream that is dry for most of the year? What about an irrigation ditch? What about a soggy backyard?”
Yes, and while they’re at it, why not regulate murky EPA swamp waters as well. Scott Pruitt might be just the right guy to take on that dirty challenge.