Lori Swanson on: Pruit & the EPA
I have been honored to serve with many Democratic Attorneys General in this country.
Many of my colleagues have honored their states as Governor: Andrew Cuomo of New York; Jerry Brown of California; Steve Bullock of Montana; Roy Cooper of North Carolina; Jennifer Granholm of Michigan; Christine Gregoire of Washington; and Jay Nixon of Missouri
Some of my colleagues have honored their country as U.S. Senators: Catherine Masto of Nevada; Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota; Kamala Harris of California; Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island; and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Still, others have served with distinction in the President’s cabinet, such as Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, or Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior.
These people have added to the substance and civility of public service, not detracted from it.
With this as background, I am reticent about commenting on another fellow Attorney General with whom I served: namely, Scott Pruitt, the former Attorney General from Oklahoma who is now Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mr. Pruitt’s ethical lapses have garnered recent headlines, but that is not the focus of this email.
Rather, this email is about the dramatic changes he has made at the EPA—changes that have received much less attention than his personal lapses.
We live in a time when the public discourse gets distracted by a shell game—be it Russia, Stormy Daniels, James Comey, or the issue du jour that gets all the oxygen—while massive changes are quietly made to our public policy. Administrator Pruitt has unilaterally turned the EPA upside down with pronouncements that tromp on the rule of law as it relates to administrative regulations. For example, Administrator Pruitt:
• Repealed the Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants. These plants currently emit approximately one-third of America’s carbon dioxide.
• Withdrew U.S. participation in the Paris Climate agreement.
• Postponed regulations of Methylene chloride, N-methylpyrrolidone, and trichloroethylene, toxic chemicals used in paint strippers and cleaners. The chemicals are toxic to the brain and liver and have caused death from inhalation.
• Stopped enforcement of regulations concerning Methane emissions from oil and gas wells which are subject to EPA regulation. He attempted to stop enforcement of the regulations without bothering to follow the required administrative processes to change them.
• Pushed new requirements to prohibit the EPA from considering scientific studies unless the underlying data is made public. The problem with this is that most scientific studies about the impact of toxins on employees or human health are based on patient data and, under health privacy laws, that data cannot be made public. For example, the EPA in 2016 recommended that people limit their intake of drinking water containing PFCs, the chemicals that were the subject of our $890 million environmental settlement two months ago. The proposal effectively would have prevented the EPA from relying on studies about these chemicals to recommend that people limit their intake of the chemicals.
• Repealed a 2012 Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) regulation which required companies to undertake a cost-benefit analysis when generating these toxic chemicals.
• Proposed to cut funding of EPA enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice by one-third. Administrator Pruitt is reportedly considering whether to terminate the funding agreement with the Department of Justice, which enforces the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Oil Pollution Act.
• Rolled back CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards which were adopted to lessen tailpipe emissions and enhance fuel economy.
• Rolled back regulations concerning disposal of coal ash by power plants. Coal ash contains mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and other heavy metals that can cause respiratory problems for people and animals living near sites where the ash was dumped.
• Delayed enforcement of a regulation requiring chemical plants to disclose to the public information on the type and quantities of chemicals they have on site.
• Proposed to waive enforcement of regulations requiring the states to report to the EPA on ozone levels.
• Suspended the authority of regional EPA offices to order companies to undertake specific water and pollution tests.
• Canceled a requirement that oil and gas companies report methane emissions.
Administrator Pruitt has demonstrated an unbridled zeal in his effort to strip the EPA of its ability to protect the environment. According to the Harvard Law School Environmental Regulation Rollback Tracker and the Columbia Law School Climate Tracker, Administrator Pruitt is in the process of rolling back at least 67 environmental regulations that impact all aspects of the agency.
As state Attorney General, Mr. Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times to block Obama-era protections. In rolling back these regulations, he has been sued on multiple occasions by various states, including by me, for failing to follow administrative procedures in rescinding existing regulations.
According to the New York Times, the EPA has reduced its litigation workload by at least one-third and has reduced its civil penalties by more than one-third as well.
Independent of Administrator Pruitt’s ethical lapses, I believe he should step down. I say this for three reasons:
First, the core mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. To that end, its mission is to provide clean and safe air, water, and land for all Americans. The head of a regulatory agency creates the culture by which the staff is to carry out the mission of the agency. Administrator Pruitt has created a culture which undermines the very mission of the agency. By word and deed, as Oklahoma Attorney General and as EPA Administrator, Mr. Pruitt has consistently opposed the Agency and its mission.
Second, as Attorney General, he advised state agencies and is familiar with the federal process to promulgate (or remove) regulations. The process is complex. A new regulation, or a repeal or modification of an existing one, requires a lengthy time period before it is adopted. During this time, the proposed modification and support for it must be researched and drafted, the proposal must be disseminated to the public, and the public must be afforded the opportunity to comment on the proposal. Yet, time and again, Administrator Pruitt flouts the rule of law by unilaterally proclaiming that he is ignoring a regulation, modifying a regulation, or refusing to enforce a regulation.
Third, we have seen other members of the President’s cabinet willfully ignore the mission of their agency and established laws. The Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the United States Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of the Interior come to mind as agencies where the people in charge clearly oppose the mission of the agency they manage. These cabinet members need to hear the message that the rule of law is to be respected and followed. Removal of Administrator Pruitt might hopefully send such a message.
Whether or not you agree with my sentiments, I hope that you will let our Congressional delegation know your thoughts on this topic. While not as glamorous as the cacophony of the issues du jour that permeates Washington, D.C., I believe that the “rule of law” is a serious topic worthy of public dialogue.