ENVIRONMENT

Controversy Over Donald Trump’s Pick to Head EPA

By Briana Vannozzi
Correspondent

As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt’s career is known largely for combating the agency he’s now tapped to lead. Pruitt is a vocal climate change science skeptic. Among progressive environmental groups, he’s called a fossil fuel advocate. And he’s been a thorn in the side of President Obama’s administration, joining numerous lawsuits over everything from immigration and health care reform to EPA policies.

“It’s shocking. You can’t make this stuff up with some of these nominees,” said New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Ed Potosnak.

On the campaign trail, candidate Donald Trump promised to gut the EPA, telling supporters he’d roll back or dismantle much of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan — the policy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from utilities. As president-elect, environmentalists say he’s following through. Pruitt sued the EPA over a number of regulations in the Clean Power Plan including methane emissions and air quality requirements.

“Scott Pruitt who has sued the EPA, has basically taken the fossil fuel industry’s letters that they’ve written, changed a couple dozen words, put it on state letterhead and signed it. He’s really a shill for the industry,” Potosnak said.

“In New Jersey it’s very serious. We have 118 Superfund sites that are under the EPA and if they don’t get cleaned up and they’re allowed to pollute, it directly affects people’s health,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.

But Pruitt’s supporters say he’ll reverse antiquated trends at the agency and eliminate “federal overreach” that spends billions of dollars.

At the same time in his final weeks in office, President Obama taking action to ban indefinitely gas and oil drilling off the Atlantic Ocean and arctic waters.

“I think it was a very significant action that he took, because as you know we fought to get the Atlantic off limits for the next five years,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.

Pallone says this law will protect ecologically sensitive areas, prevent environmental damage off the Atlantic and potential negative effects on tourism.

“He basically took them out of any kind of leasing, permanently, pursuant to a law that’s been around for a while but hasn’t been utilized much,” Pallone said.

“What the president is doing here is basically putting the needs of keep it in the ground activists, folks who want to keep all of the oil, gas and coal resources in the ground putting their interests over the needs of the American people and the needs of this economy. There are a lot of economic benefits and there’s so much potential by tapping into these resources offshore,” said Chris Warren, vice president of communications for American Energy Alliance.

While environmental groups disagree on both the EPA nominee and offshore drilling regulations, Potosnak says it ups the ante for the 2017 gubernatorial race.

“We had the EPA as a backstop. The EPA would stand up and say this is not consistent with federal law. If those federal laws are rolled back we are going to have no backstop and that’s why we need a governor who is committed to environmental protection,” he said.

An opportunity for push back.