WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump confirmed on Thursday that he will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a global warming skeptic, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which he has repeatedly sued and derided for pursuing an “activist agenda.”
“My administration strongly believes in environmental protection, and Scott Pruitt will be a powerful advocate for that mission while promoting jobs, safety and opportunity,” Trump said in an early morning statement.
Trump said Pruitt, 48, will restore the EPA’s “essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe” while ensuring that the agency doesn’t spend tax money on an “out of control, anti-energy agenda.”
Pruitt, in a statement released by Trump’s transition team, said Americans “are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”
After word broke Wednesday of the expected pick, environmental groups took a strong stand against Pruitt, describing him as a puppet of polluters. The Sierra Club said it was like “putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”
Representatives of mining and oil interests cheered Trump’s choice.
“Scott Pruitt is a businessman and public servant and understands the impact regulation and legislation have in the business world,” said Jeffrey McDougall, an oilman who serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. “His appointment will put rational and reasonable regulation at the forefront.”
Though his academic degrees are in political science and law, Pruitt has been a vocal denier of the science showing that the planet is warming and that man-made carbon emissions are to blame.
In an opinion article published this year by National Review, Pruitt suggested that the debate over global warming “is far from settled” and claimed “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
According to NASA, 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree that the planet is getting hotter and that burning fossil fuels is the primary cause. Ten of the warmest years in history have occurred in the past 12, with 2016 on pace to be the hottest recorded. Studies show the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass, while the world’s oceans have risen on average nearly 7 inches in the last century.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, set to become the Senate Democratic leader, said his party plans to press Pruitt with “tough questions” in his confirmation hearing.
“Attorney General Pruitt’s reluctance to accept the facts or science on climate change couldn’t make him any more out of touch with the American people — and with reality,” Schumer said.
Schumer said Trump “promised to break the special interests’ grip on Washington, but his nomination of Mr. Pruitt — who has a troubling history of advocating on behalf of big oil at the expense of public health — only tightens it.”
GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who shares Pruitt’s skepticism of climate science, praised Pruitt’s record of fighting back “against unconstitutional and overzealous environmental regulations.”
As attorney general since 2011, Pruitt has repeatedly sued the EPA. He joined with other Republican attorneys general in opposing the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt has argued that curbing carbon emissions would trample the rights of states, drive up electricity rates, threaten the reliability of the nation’s power grid and “create economic havoc.”
He filed court briefs in support of the Keystone XL pipeline, blocked by the Obama administration. The project runs through his state. Pruitt also sued the EPA over the agency’s recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, which has been opposed by industries that would be forced to clean up polluted wastewater.
“Respect for private property rights have allowed our nation to thrive, but with the recently finalized rule, farmers, ranchers, developers, industry and individual property owners will now be subject to the unpredictable, unsound and often byzantine regulatory regime of the EPA,” Pruitt said last year.
Though Pruitt ran unopposed for a second term in 2014, campaign finance reports show he raised more than $700,000, with many of his top donors hailing from the energy and utility industries. Among those who gave the maximum contribution of $5,000 to Pruitt’s campaign was Continental Resources Chairman and CEO Harold Hamm, an Oklahoma oil tycoon who has been advising Trump.
Trump has called global warming a “hoax” and said he plans to abandon the U.S. commitment to reduce carbon emissions as part of the international agreement signed last year in Paris. During the campaign, the New York billionaire said he would like to abolish the EPA, or at least gut regulations he says impede corporate profits.
Environmental groups say they are girding up to defend the Obama administration’s environmental legacy in court.
“Scott Pruitt has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “He is a deeply troubling choice to head the agency that protects the clean air all Americans breathe and the clean water we drink.”
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy reported from Oklahoma City.