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The End of the EPA? Trump Taps Climate Change Denier & Fossil Fuel Ally Scott Pruitt to Head Agency

StoryDecember 08, 2016
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Guests
May Boeve

executive director of 350 Action, the political arm of the climate organization 350.org.

Wenonah Hauter

executive director of Food & Water Watch.

President-elect Donald Trump has announced he will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is seen as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, The New York Times revealed that Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general had formed what the paper described as an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the nation’s top energy producers to fight Obama’s climate efforts. Senator Bernie Sanders said, "Pruitt’s record is not only that of being a climate change denier, but also someone who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to make this country more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels." For more, we speak with May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, and Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President-elect Donald Trump has announced he will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has been one of the EPA’s fiercest critics and has led a legal effort to overturn parts of President Obama’s climate change policies, including his Clean Power Plan. Pruitt claimed the science of climate change is, quote, "far from settled." He is also seen as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, The New York Times revealed that Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general had formed what the paper described as a, quote, "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the nation’s top energy producers to fight Obama’s climate efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times also exposed Pruitt’s close ties to the Oklahoma firm Devon Energy. In 2014, Pruitt sent the EPA a letter accusing federal regulators of overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in Oklahoma. What Pruitt didn’t reveal was that the letter was secretly drafted by lawyers at Devon Energy. In 2015, Pruitt testified before Congress about his opposition to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan regulations. When questioned by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Pruitt refused to acknowledge the existence of climate change.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Is climate change a problem anywhere in the world?

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: Senator, I think that the process matters that the EPA engages in—

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: I get that.

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: —to address these issues. And that’s the focus—

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: But I didn’t ask you a process question. I asked you a question about whether climate change—

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: I think that question—

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: —is a real problem anywhere in the world.

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: I think the question about climate action plan of the president, climate change, is something that’s a policy consideration of this Congress. If you want EPA to address that in a direct way, you can amend the Clean Air Act to provide that authority and the statutory power to do so, so that the states can know how to conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with statutory construction. That’s not—

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: So, to be clear—

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: That’s not—

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: —neither of the attorney generals present will concede that climate change is a real problem anywhere in the world.

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: Senator, I think it’s immaterial to discussions about the legal framework of the Clean Air Act.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Immaterial or not, I get to ask questions. And so, it’s material to my question. All right, let’s go on to something else.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse questioning Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt last year. Trump’s selection of Pruitt to head the EPA has been widely criticized by environmental groups and lawmakers concerned about the climate change crisis. Senator Bernie Sanders said, quote, "Pruitt’s record is not only that of being a climate change denier, but also someone who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to make this country more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels."

AMY GOODMAN: Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said, quote, "It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history."

To talk more about Scott Pruitt, we’re joined by two guests. Here in New York, May Boeve is with us, executive director of 350 Action, the political arm of the climate organization "350.org"https://350.org/. And joining us from Washington, D.C., is Wenonah Hauter. She is executive director of Food & Water Watch.

Wenonah, let us begin with you. Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, tapped to head the EPA, your response?

WENONAH HAUTER: Well, you know, I first ran into Scott Pruitt when I was writing my recent book, Frackopoly, on the history of the oil and gas industry, and saw that he was one of the leading attorney generals lobbying on what he called sue-and-settle legislation, which we know that our citizenry has the right to sue the federal government when the government is not doing what’s in their best interest. And he was lobbying in favor of Devon and Continental Resources in trying to stop the ability of citizens to actually move forward with lawsuits.

I think that putting Pruitt in charge of the EPA is a lot like putting one of The Three Stooges in charge of the agency, because he is not really credible on any of the issues around the environment. We can look at what he did in 2013 when he brought nine attorney generals to Oklahoma City, some of the most powerful law firms that represent the energy industry, along with the CEOs of many energy companies, to put together a scheme about how they were going to stop the federal government from taking action to stop the pollution from fossil fuel drilling and fracking. This was paid for by the right-wing energy and law institute at George Mason University.

The fossil fuel industry actually helped raise the money to put him in office. And one of the first things he did upon becoming the attorney general of Oklahoma was to start a committee on federalism, because what’s unfortunate about Pruitt is, not only is he a cartoon character, but he’s a very smart politician. And he saw the possibility of creating what is a lot like a national law firm, made up of attorney generals and also the legal arm of the energy industry, to be able to not only hassle the EPA, but also what was going on at state legislatures regarding fossil fuel development. So I think he’s a very dangerous character.

I think that he is going to attempt to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, and not just in the area of fossil fuels, but also around the pollution from factory farming and industrialized agriculture. He has been an ally of the big corporations that own these large animal factories. In fact, there was legislation that was turned down in Oklahoma in the last election called Freedom to Farm, which, of course, really means freedom of factory farms to pollute. So we know that, because the EPA hasn’t done a real great job of regulating factory farms anyway, that we’re going to see a lot of trouble ahead.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: May Boeve, in the news release that announced his nomination, the Trump transition team called Pruitt "an expert in Constitutional law" and said he, quote, "brings a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy." So could you respond to that and, in particular, the significance of him being a constitutional lawyer?

MAY BOEVE: Well, it’s no surprise that he knows about the impact of regulation, because the regulations were starting to work. We were starting to see real pressure on the oil and gas industry on the issue of climate change. And they are pushing back. And so, they are celebrating that Scott Pruitt has been selected for this role. So, his expertise in this area means he’s going to try to dismantle the foundation of laws that this country has built around environmental protection. Most significantly right now are the regulations that have been put in place around coal plants, around fracking. They’re not nearly as strong as they need to be, but we certainly need the ones that we have. And so, this is a very dangerous appointment. It cannot be overstated. And it shows us exactly what we need to know about Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s appearance on Capitol Hill in 2015, when he testified about his legal fight against President Obama’s Clean Power Plan regulations.

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: I think what is lost in the debate, at times, is the impact on consumers, those that will be consuming electricity in the future. In the state of Oklahoma, between coal and natural gas, 78 percent of our electricity is generated. As I indicated in my opening comment, 15 percent of our electricity is generated through wind. The choices available to the state of Oklahoma to comply with this mandate from the EPA of reducing CO2 by over 30 percent, it puts us in a position of having to make decisions about the shuttering of coal generation, which, as I indicated, makes up over 40 percent of our electricity generation. That’s going to increase cost substantially to consumers, this one rule. To give you an example, in the Clean Air Act, there is something called the regional haze statute, as you know—section of the Clean Air Act. That one rule alone, between PSO, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, and OG&E in the state of Oklahoma have seen 15 to 20 percent increases in their generation of electricity, with just one rule. When we combine all these others, it’s going to be obviously substantially more than that in the future for consumers in the state of Oklahoma.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: So these regulations would directly hurt—hurt—the people of Oklahoma.

ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: Some of the folks that can least afford it.

AMY GOODMAN: So there you have Scott Pruitt testifying before the Senate. Wenonah Hauter, respond to what Pruitt has just said.

WENONAH HAUTER: Well, this is really a false dichotomy that we see all the time when energy is discussed. Really, what we need to do is be moving into a more energy-efficient and an energy future that relies on renewable energy. This would create many jobs, and it would also solve many of the problems that are going to cost taxpayers a lot of money as we see the problems from climate change really snowball.

You know, it’s interesting that Pruitt and his allies have attacked the Clean Power Plan. I don’t think that they completely understand what the plan does. It certainly disadvantages coal, which is a very, very dirty fossil fuel, but states are able to make their own plans. And one of the criticisms of the plan has been that it really incentivizes natural gas. And, of course, coal is being—the industry is being destroyed because the amount of fossil fuel that has been fracked for has increased so much that it’s real—that coal is now a higher price.

So, I think that what we’re going to see at EPA is a real attack on anything that protects people or the environment. And this is really disturbing, because attorney generals are supposed to be the attorneys for the people, and Pruitt clearly is an attorney for the fossil fuel industry. And we’re going to have to unite against Pruitt and the policies that he’s going to put forward.

AMY GOODMAN: You talked about fracked oil. And I wanted to talk specifically about Oklahoma, where residents have filed a class action lawsuit against fracking companies over a massive 5.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the city of Cushing in November, knocking out power, rupturing gas lines, partially collapsing buildings. Cushing bills itself as the pipeline crossroads of the world and is home to above-ground tanks that store millions of barrels of crude oil. Scientists believe wastewater disposal wells from oil and gas fracking are linked to the dramatic rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma in recent years. Oklahoma experienced 907 magnitude-three-plus earthquakes in 2015. Before 2008, Oklahoma experienced an average of only one and two earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude each year. Your response to that, May Boeve?

MAY BOEVE: Well, this is very telling about what we’re going to see more of. Recently, we heard from the chief in the Pawnee Reservation that they had had three earthquakes that day. So the earthquake epidemic in Oklahoma is significant. And here we have someone who wants to do more drilling, who wants there to be more earthquakes in Oklahoma, so is clearly not concerned about the people who live in that state and all the people in other states around this country who suffer from the impacts of fracking. Instead, he is going to make the pathway to more oil and gas development much smoother for his allies in the industry. But the good news here, if there is any, is that the climate movement has focused on fossil fuel infrastructure and won incredible victories at the local and state level. And so, if he intends to expand drilling, we will be there at every turn, ready to resist.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So what do you think the climate movement should be doing now in response to this?

MAY BOEVE: Well, we have to be incredibly clear-eyed about what we are up against. As we know, Trump has been saying two different stories about climate change. On the one hand, maybe he’s revisiting his position on climate denial. On the other hand, he’s making an appointment like this. So, no one should be under any illusion that we’re going to see any sort of continuation of the progress we’ve seen on climate action. What the movement needs to do is be strong and unified and fight back on all of these decisions and appointments. And also, we can grow our movement. So many people who are concerned about the election of Donald Trump are concerned about what it means for this issue that is going to affect generations that have yet to come. And so, we are seeing many more people who want to get involved, who want to do more, who want to organize and march. That is what they will do. And so, Scott Pruitt better get ready for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, Scott Pruitt is Donald Trump’s choice, and that’s what’s key here, is his view on climate, on the environment. May Boeve, one of the—couple of the choices that have been bandied about, media has speculated about, for secretary of state are the current and past presidents of Exxon. Can you talk about Scott Pruitt’s relationship with Exxon as attorney general of Oklahoma?

MAY BOEVE: Well, on the subject of appointments, it’s absolutely devastating that the CEO of Exxon would be considered for secretary of state, just to be completely clear about that.

AMY GOODMAN: They talk about him—that means he has global experience. It’s a global company.

MAY BOEVE: Yeah, of course. It’s absolutely disastrous as even an idea. But in terms of Scott Pruitt’s relationship to Exxon, he joined forces with other attorneys general backing up Exxon when it came under fire for its climate denial. There is an investigation underway into just how long ago Exxon knew about climate change and funded a disinformation campaign. And so, naturally, our government is doing its job in trying to find out how much they knew and when, and Exxon has gathered around it its allies at the state level, including Attorney General Scott Pruitt, to back it up. And so, we are seeing Exxon try to use its freedom of speech to lie to the public about climate change, and we’re seeing climate deniers heading up for the EPA. We’re living in some kind of twilight zone.

AMY GOODMAN: How does Exxon affect you at 350?

MAY BOEVE: Well, Exxon has come after our organization and a number of our allies. We’ve received one subpoena from Lamar Smith, who is a representative from the state of Texas, and we’ve received another subpoena from Exxon directly. And we are fighting back, but this is the kind of thing we can all expect to see more of under a Trump administration. We have to fight back. But they are not playing around.

AMY GOODMAN: This news from Greenpeace: Harold Hamm, Trump’s top energy adviser and CEO of the country’s largest fracking company, was chair of Pruitt’s 2013 re-election campaign for Oklahoma attorney general. More recently, he’s made news as one of the biggest proponents of the Dakota Access pipeline. It’s his company’s fracked oil that would have flowed through the pipeline if it had been completed. Wenonah Hauter, if you could talk about this? Now, Donald Trump has vowed to—says he supports the Dakota Access pipeline. Not clear how much he personally has invested in the Dakota Access pipeline—last we knew, between half a million and a million dollars, but one of his spokespeople said he’s now sold that. Then there is his investment in Phillips 66, that would also profit. But what this means for what Trump, when he becomes president, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, if he were to become head of the EPA, means for the Dakota Access pipeline, which at this point the Army Corps of Engineers says will not grant a final permit to drill under the Missouri River?

WENONAH HAUTER: Well, Harold Hamm has also been an adviser on energy issues to the Trump campaign. And they’ve been associated for the last several years. So, we can see that when Trump comes into office, he is going to probably try to attack what President Obama has done on the Dakota Access line. And we can see that there’s really an unholy alliance here. Harold Hamm’s company, Continental Resources, is one of the largest frackers for oil. And, of course, 80 percent of fracking since 2012 has been for oil, and much of it from the Dakotas. And the industry is desperate to get the oil out for overseas delivery, and that’s why the export ban was released as part of the omnibus budget bill in 2015. So, we see that there’s going to have to be a concerted effort to make the connections between these fossil fuel corporations and the Trump administration very clear, and we’re going to have to hammer it home.

I also want to say that I think that Standing Rock and the massive movement that’s been created out of this terrible debacle that the fossil fuel industry has tried to bring to the Sioux tribe in North Dakota, we’re seeing that kind of infrastructure development all over the country. There are thousands of miles of pipelines. We can make a lot of progress at the state level on some of these issues. And it’s completely true what May says about the movement growing. The movement is growing. We need to be there during the process for confirming Pruitt and really bringing to light what he stands for and what is going to happen to our environment and our climate because of Pruitt.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to just ask very quickly of May Boeve—a lot has been made of this meeting that President-elect Donald Trump has had with his daughter Ivanka and Al Gore on the issue of climate change. Respond.

MAY BOEVE: Well, he can have all the meetings he wants that make it sound like he cares about this issue, but if he makes appointments like this, we know exactly where he stands, which is supporting more drilling, more fracking, which we know causes climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action; Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. Thanks so much for being with us.

When we come back, a faithless elector. Stay with us.

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