Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt prides himself on being “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” He is also President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency). For those unfamiliar with the agency, the EPA aims to “protect human health and the environment” by setting written regulations and standards for states, tribes, and private companies to abide by. And because the environment and water contamination have a direct impact on our food supply, the EPA has overlapping responsibilities and oversight there as well. For example, as the enforcers of the Clean Water Act, which oversees contamination of navigable and drinking waters across the United States, the EPA is directly responsible for the health of Americans. EPA administrators also regulate our drinking water, focusing on the limitation of impurities in municipal water supplies. Furthermore, while the FDA is responsible for most food production and regulation, the EPA is the enforcing agency behind pesticide use on food by setting,“limits on how much of a pesticide may be used on food during growing and processing, and how much can remain on the food you buy.”
So, why would the President-elect name someone who once sued the EPA as its new leader? As always, it comes down to a debate on the States rights versus the power of the Federal government: in a country where the individual interests of 50 states vastly differ, who has control over what can become a contentious issue that raise questions of Constitutional rights. For example, the Clean Water Rule, introduced in May 2015, gave the EPA the power to decide which waters in the US are subject to the Clean Water Act. Many states and lobbies felt this was an overreach of power, especially states in which farming is crucial to the economy. Former president of the American Farm Bureau, Bob Stallman, called the bill “one of the worst examples of overregulation”.
Similarly, in a statement given shortly after his nomination, Pruitt said, “the American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.” Yet, Pruitt’s vocal concerns are merely a game of semantics -– one that the EPA is clearly willing to play, made all the more clear in January 2016 when then EPA Administrator Susan Hedman resigned. Hedman’s departure was in the midst of the Flint Water Crisis and her agency’s “interpretation of federal law that the EPA is responsible for establishing standards for states to follow, but doesn’t necessarily have the ability to force states to comply with those standards.”
Being that Pruitt is such a vocal opponent of the EPA, his nomination caused public dissent by both Democrats and Republicans. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund is on record claiming “Scott Pruitt has a record of attacking the environmental protections that EPA is charged with enforcing. He has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection.” The Sierra Club began their statement on his nomination with a bold accusation, “[h]aving Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.” Even President George W. Bush’s controversial EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is confused by this choice. Despite Todd Whitman’s own sordid history with the agency, during which she claimed (and since retracted) that the air in downtown Manhattan after 9/11 was safe, she disagrees with the President-elect’s decision. “I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.”
While Pruitt’s appointment might feel like a win for the fans of small government, concerns around what this means for the safety of our food, water, and air will affect us all.