Trump taps petroleum industry ally for top EPA job

Donald Trump file photo by Gage Skidmore/CC 2.0
Donald Trump file photo by Gage Skidmore/CC 2.0

President-elect Donald Trump has selected a friend of the oil and gas industry to be EPA administrator: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

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Pruitt has fought President Obama’s environmental policies, on behalf of his state, and with other attorneys general. He was a leader in a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA over its Clean Power plan, designed to reduce emissions from power plants.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said the choice shows Trump is committed to trimming EPA’s “lawless overreach.”

Environmental groups say Pruitt would be a fox guarding the hen house. Tiernan Sittenfeld, at the League of Conservation Voters, said Pruitt’s multiple lawsuits against the EPA show Pruitt opposes the agency’s mission.

“Scott Pruitt is an incredibly damaging and really a horrific choice to lead the agency that’s charged with protecting public health and the environment, and we will do everything we can to stop him from getting anywhere close to the EPA,” Sittenfeld said.

Pruitt’s Oklahoma state bio described him as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

Jeff Holmstead, head of the environmental strategies group at the law and government affairs firm Bracewell, said Pruitt will be good for the petroleum industry.

“We really have had, especially in the last few years, kind of federal government hostility to any kind of fossil fuel development,” Holmstead said. Holmstead’s clients include energy companies. “And president-elect Trump, and now his EPA administrator, just don’t believe that’s consistent with U.S. interest.”

Holmstead, who was head of EPA air office in the Bush administration, said one way Pruitt is likely to help industry is by ditching the EPA’s proposed methane rule. Proponents say the rule would reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by requiring companies to stop methane leaks from oil and gas wells. Holmstead, though, said complying with the rule would be expensive, making some fields uneconomic. And, he contends, the companies already have a financial incentive to capture methane and sell it.

A 2014 New York Times investigation found Pruitt had a close alliance with industry lobbyists, including one who represented the backers of the Pebble project. That’s a massive proposed mine in Western Alaska that opponents say would threaten Bristol Bay. The EPA became the hero of some tribes in the Bristol Bay region when it intervened to block Pebble.

In Alaska, the EPA also polices oil spills on the North Slope, writes the national rules for wetland protection, and governs the handling of hazardous materials.