Key Omission Undercuts Attempted New York Times Exposé of EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt

In today’s New York Times, Eric Lipton and Coral Davenport dropped what was supposed to be a blockbuster exposé of “a series of instances in which [Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator nominee Scott] Pruitt put cooperation with industry before confrontation as he sought to blunt the impact of federal environmental policies in his state—against oil, gas, agriculture and other interests.” According to Lipton and Davenport, “[Pruitt’s] antipathy to federal regulation—he sued the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times—in many ways defined his tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general.”

In support of these contentions, the article includes an interactive feature that presents the legal briefs from the 14 suits against the EPA in which Pruitt participated on behalf of Oklahoma. Lipton and Davenport note: “In all but one of these 14 cases, regulated industry players also were parties.” The obvious implication is that Pruitt is doing the bidding of the industries that funded his political campaigns.

However, there is a gaping hole in the New York Times story. The reporters make it seem as though Pruitt was waging a one-man war against the EPA. In fact, an unprecedented and diverse number of states have challenged the agency during the Obama administration. For example, both of the EPA’s signature regulations—the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule—were challenged by more than half of all states. By my count, 206 states (attorneys general, governors, or state regulatory bodies) participated in 12 of the 14 lawsuits against the EPA in addition to Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt. That’s an average of 18 states per lawsuit. Nor is it the case that only conservative states challenged the EPA. To wit, Michigan, Ohio, and even Delaware have joined Oklahoma in fighting various EPA rules.

It is remarkable that Lipton and Davenport omitted discussion of how many states joined Oklahoma in challenging the EPA during the Obama era. After all, Pruitt has made federalism the touchstone of his opposition to the agency.

Arguably, the breadth of state opposition to Obama-era EPA rules undercuts the thesis implied by Lipton and Davenport—that industry funding influenced Pruitt’s prosecutorial discretion. To buy what the Times is selling, you’d have to believe that more than half the state attorneys general in the country are supplicants of industry. That’s a sweeping and ill-founded supposition.

Also, the plenitude of state challenges to Obama’s EPA cuts against Lipton and Davenport’s evident assumption that the underlying rules were important public health safeguards. It defies reason to claim that more than half of all states are against clean air or clean water when they challenge the Clean Power Plan or Waters of the United States rule.

Without question, the state officials who have sued are more accountable to their constituents than are the unelected civil servants at the EPA. Does it make sense to think that citizens in more than half of all states want dirty air and water? Of course not! Rather, these states are fighting highly politicized regulations that would subject more and more state authority to the EPA, in order to achieve health and environmental benefits that are illusory. To this point, consider the following links to previous posts that tell the true story about the rules being challenged by Pruitt, among many other states: Clean Power Plan, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Ozone NAAQS, Carbon Pollution Standards, Regional Haze, and the Waters of the U.S. Rule