Editorial

President Trump’s EPA nominee Pruitt will place a steady hand on the agency’s tiller

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The Environmental Protection Agency is here to stay. And the current regulations the coal industry faces are too. As captain of the EPA ship, Scott Pruitt, President Trump's nominee for the agency's administrator, is unlikely to run it aground by dismantling current regulations. Indeed, he will ensure those regulations are followed.

At the same time, he is unlikely to use the EPA as a warship by side-stepping both those same regulations and due process in an attempt to hunt down 'polluters'. With regard to the Clean Power Plan, he probably won't chart a course for unknown waters alone, preferring Congress to plot that course if it chooses. No, Pruitt will keep the EPA ship steady and on course, sailing well-charted waters, defending territory already claimed, and avoiding rogue action.

Pruitt had his nomination hearing before the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week. Comments and questions covered his tenure as the attorney general of Oklahoma , his association with the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and the Rule of Law Defense Fund. The committee focussed on the 14 separate lawsuits he brought as Oklahoma attorney general against the EPA, challenging its implementation of environmental regulations.

Pruitt was asked his philosophy of how the EPA should conduct business. He responded:

  1. The role of regulator is to "make things regular". For example, let people know what is expected.
  2. The EPA must follow the rule of law.
  3. The agency should restore confidence and certainty in regulations.
  4. Once rules are established, the EPA should vigorously enforce them.

On the broader issue of climate change, Pruitt stated he believes it is real and that human behavior affects it. He said the EPA has an important role to play working with states in implementing laws enacted by Congress. The role of the EPA administrator is that of an executive in carrying out rules established by Congress. When asked if he believed the laws on the books are adequate, he responded that generally they are. It's more an issue of the agency doing their job.

In a number of situations, Pruitt referred to these tenets, in particular the rule of law. He stated most of the challenges he brought as Oklahoma attorney general were a result of the EPA not following its own regulations in implementing the laws – to wit, it did not conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

On his role as regulator, Pruitt highlighted two areas of concern. The first, regulation through litigation or "sue and settle", bypasses the public feedback process and therefore violates the law, he says. The second involves "interim recommendations", a process used to avoid formal rule making. Pruitt said he believes there is a place for consent decrees, but not if they bypass the rule-making requirement.

On questions of specific pollutants and regulations, Pruitt stated he would uphold current law. This includes mercury (as stipulated by Congress under Section 112), CO2 (under the Clean Air Act), the Clean Air Act itself (emphasizing states' roles), carbon endangerment, and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. On the issue of the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt noted the Supreme Court's stay was unprecedented, was based on the EPA not following the will of Congress, and the EPA not conducting a proper cost-benefit analysis. Pruitt was not asked and did not offer any further thoughts on the plan.

There are those who would like to see the EPA continue to expand its territorial waters, and those who would like to see it put into dry dock. Both will be disappointed.

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