Yesterday, President-elect Donald Trump picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The nomination is significant in several ways.
First, however steady or wavering the President-elect may prove to be in other issues he addressed on the campaign trail, when it comes to reining in the EPA and safeguarding access to America’s fossil energy resources, Trump not only talks the talk, he walks the walk.
Second, if confirmed as administrator, Pruitt could bring about long overdue regime change at the EPA. As documented in a Senate investigative report, the EPA has become a captured agency. Many EPA appointees are former members of environmental pressure groups and vice versa. The agency provides grants to organizations that, in turn, mount lobbying campaigns to expand the agency’s budget and regulatory turf. Allied groups even provide policy direction to the agency. The so-called Clean Power Plan, for example, was basically authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Major environmental groups have come to regard the EPA as a kind of hereditary fiefdom, and not without reason. Until now, all presidents, regardless of party, have observed an unwritten law that an EPA head must be a “progressive” in good standing with Big Green. That custom, which resembles a religious test of office, flouts the spirit of republican government. Presidential elections are a sham if one faction has a permanent lock on power regardless of who wins the race and irrespective of the winner’s campaign platform and agenda. Trump’s pick of Pruitt signals a desire to end the fiefdom and reassert the primacy of elections in charting EPA policy.
Third, if confirmed as administrator, Pruitt could halt and reverse the EPA’s encroachment on state regulatory authority. My colleague William Yeatman explains the point as follows:
Unlike the last two agency chiefs, the next EPA administrator should work with, rather than against, the states. EPA’s authorizing statutes require that the agency work together with states to improve the environment. But over the last 8 years, cooperative federalism has become coercive federalism, as the EPA has effectively replaced its state partners with environmentalist zealots from the ranks of green special interests.
For example, as of December last year, the Obama EPA had imposed 54 Clean Air Act takeovers (known as “federal implementation plans”) on state environmental programs—more than 10 times the sum of the previous three administrations combined. EPA imposed two more FIPs this year, bringing the total to 56. Under Pruitt, we could expect the EPA to “return to working with states for the best steps forward on environmental policy,” Yeatman opines.
Finally, contrary to the usual suspects, who warn that Pruitt would turn the EPA into a “pro-polluter” agency, the EPA would probably facilitate state efforts to protect America’s air and water resources.
A recent Competitive Enterprise Institute study of 1,000 deadlines across the four major stationary source programs found that 84 percent of the EPA’s Clean Air Act deadlines were late or outstanding by an average of 4.3 years. For industrial sector-wide regulations, such as new source performance standards and hazardous air pollution standards, the agency was late on average by 7.8 years. In reviewing State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to meet federal air quality standards, a responsibility accounting for about 80 percent of the 1,000 deadlines, the agency was late on average by 1.9 years.
The Agency, not Congress, is to blame for its chronic tardiness, argues Yeatman, who authored the study. Rather than pursuing non-discretionary responsibilities stipulated by Congress, the EPA has given priority to discretionary programs of its own choosing. Notably, almost all of the EPA’s climate rules—including the Clean Power Plan, Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants, methane rules for new sources, and hydrofluorocarbon rules—are not required by the statute.
Like a child in need of adult supervision, the Obama EPA has pursued preferred extracurricular activities before doing its homework. So not only is the agency failing to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” as required by the Constitution, it is also impeding environmental protection.
The first step in reining in the EPA would simply be to require it to clear out its backlog of statutory responsibilities and comply with all future statutory deadlines. That would also help refocus the agency on its core environmental stewardship missions.