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Inside Scott Pruitt's Mission to Remake the EPA

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Time Magazine quotes Myron Ebell on Scott Pruitt's opportunity to battle overregulation within the EPA.

Bonnie Wirtz was tending to her Minnesota farm one summer evening in 2012 when a crop duster buzzed low overhead. The aircraft sprayed chemicals on her property, missing its target next door. Soon the fumes seeped into her home through the air conditioner, and Wirtz wound up in an emergency room, coughing and bewildered and worried about the health of her 8-month-old son.

She had been sickened by a reaction to a pesticide called chlorpyrifos, which the agriculture industry uses to kill insects and worms on everything from cotton to oranges. A growing body of scientific evidence has linked the pesticide to health problems in children. Indeed, Wirtz’s son was diagnosed in 2015 with a developmental disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. It was the kind of episode that pushed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that same year to propose banning the chemical altogether for most uses.

But when Scott Pruitt took over in February, the agency reconsidered. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general, came to the EPA on a mission to change it from within. Since its founding in 1970 under Republican President Richard Nixon, the agency’s primary task has been to keep people safe from toxic pollutants. Pruitt has pioneered a radically different approach to environmental regulation, weighing impact on job growth and the concerns of business groups on a level plane with environmental protection when the law allows. In March, less than a month after speaking with the CEO of Dow Chemical, the primary maker of chlorpyrifos, Pruitt reversed course, delaying a decision on the pesticide until 2022. (An EPA spokesperson said the conversation was brief and chlorpyrifos was not discussed.)

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Pruitt’s moves alarm not only environmentalists and public health advocates but also many moderate Republicans. “There is no precedent for the range of apparently skeptical reviews of EPA regulations,” says William Reilly, who ran the agency under President George H.W. Bush. “I’m not confident that the integrity to the entire legal apparatus is really safe.” Some industry officials who worry about economic stability almost as much as overregulation say Pruitt may tip the balance too far in one direction, setting up the agency for another dramatic shift when a new President comes to town. “Virtually everyone in the business community believes that EPA needs to issue a replacement rule” to address climate change, says Jeff Holmstead, a senior EPA official under George W. Bush who now represents energy companies. “They think they would be better off with a reasonable regulation than with no regulation at all.”

Meanwhile, critics on the right complain that Pruitt has not gone far enough. Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s EPA transition team, says he wants Pruitt to challenge the EPA’s endangerment finding–the scientific document underpinning the agency’s global-warming regulation. “It’s essential,” Ebell says. But Pruitt is savvy about which battles he picks. Challenging the endangerment finding would trigger a legal fight much like that which ensnared Trump’s ill-fated travel ban. Instead, Pruitt has devised a strategy to publicly debate–and likely undermine–climate science while working bureaucratic channels to weaken regulation behind the scenes.

All this has earned Pruitt Trump’s ear as well as his praise. Trump has cited the work of the EPA, and the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement–a move that bears Pruitt’s fingerprints–on a short list of his top accomplishments. “One of the biggest areas of success for the Trump Administration has been turning around really big regulations,” says West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey, who worked with Pruitt on the Republican Attorneys General Association. “Pruitt is the driving force behind that.”

Read the entire article at Time.