BY SIERRA LEWANDOWSKI
On February 17, the United States Senate confirmed Edward Scott Pruitt, former attorney general of Oklahoma, by a vote of 52 to 46, as the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt will replace Catherine McCabe and serve as the 14th administrator to the EPA. Pruitt’s appointment has sparked criticism from the Democratic Party and environmentalists alike, as Pruitt self-identifies as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Scott Pruitt served the state of Oklahoma for six years and, during that time, was known for being adamantly against environmental regulation. As Attorney General, he fought tirelessly to limit Uncle Sam’s hand extending over business, and he combated federal measures that would improve water quality and limit both vehicle emissions and pollution produced by power plants. The Obama administration enacted these measures in the 2015 Clean Power Plan, which Donald Trump campaigned to abolish. During his time as Attorney General, Pruitt filed 14 lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency as a matter of “regulatory overreach.”
The EPA was created under President Nixon’s administration in December 1970. Headed by an administrator appointed by the president, the EPA is supposed to consolidate research, enforcement, and measures regarding the federal government’s relation with the environment. Though responsible for protecting air, water, land, endangered species, and hazardous waste, the EPA faces criticism from those who favor limited government. At the beginning of this month, U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz proposed bill H.R. 861, a measure that would terminate the EPA.
Many concerned environmentalists, Democrats, and former members of the EPA have voiced concern over Pruitt’s appointment, as many refer to him as a “climate change denier.” Pruitt’s apathy toward environmental protection has provoked skepticism over whether or not he is fit to lead the federal agency responsible for protecting the environment. During Scott Pruitt’s hearing on January 18, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont posed questions to Pruitt regarding the extent to which climate change is caused by human activity. In response, Pruitt stated that his “personal opinion is immaterial.”
Skepticism and critique does not stop at Pruitt’s personal beliefs regarding climate change and human activity. Senate Democrats attempted to delay the Pruitt’s appointment vote until thousands of emails between Pruitt and coal, oil and gas companies were released to the public on February 22, by order of an Oklahoma judge. However, two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, voted in favor of Pruitt’s appointment, exposing their dedication to their states’ dependency on coal. While the delay was ultimately unsuccessful, the publication of this information will most likely evince ties between Scott Pruitt and fossil fuel companies.
However, Scott Pruitt has faced limited criticism in the media, unlike Betsy DeVos, whose appointment to Secretary of Education on February 7 garnered national attention and spurred scathing resistance by Democrats. Pruitt, meanwhile, seems to be flying under the radar. Many environmentalists attribute this to the impersonal nature of environmental policy. While everyone has had some interaction with public schools and education, many perceive the environment as a problem too large to tackle or view as a personal matter.
While it is unclear exactly what Pruitt will enact in the next four years, it is not only possible but likely that the international community will suffer. The United States is second among carbon polluters around the world, so it is imperative that the U.S. takes a hard stance in combating climate change. Though the government is certainly not the only means by which climate change can be combated and regulated, the EPA’s purpose is to do just that. Many conservatives, however, have fixed views regarding the environment and the regulations constraining business, and thus reject the EPA’s position. However, the protection of the environment is a bigger issue than a debate of laissez-faire economics.
Our government must encourage and demand both businesses and individuals to reduce their emissions and regulate pollution levels. The Paris Agreement, which promotes the international community’s commitment to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging finance flows between lower emissions and “climate-resilient development,” was ratified by 194 countries in 2016. The United States must utilize its economic capacity and international prestige to be a champion of climate change.