Scott Pruitt Will Make America Great Again — For Polluters

Originally published at Moyers & Company

President Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency might put it on the endangered species list.

In this exclusive web essay, Bill Moyers takes on President Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has a track record of putting the business interests of the energy sector before the environmental and health interests of the public. He has spent his career fighting the rules and regulations of the agency he is now being nominated to lead. His expected confirmation threatens to make America great for polluters again.

Credits: Gail Ablow, Producer; Rebecca Sherwood, Editor


I’m Bill Moyers, here with a horror story — a story of corruption so daring, so devious and so dangerous it could kill you. It could poison your drinking water, contaminate your neighborhood and make your children very, very sick.

Let’s begin with a television commercial that I chanced to see on CNN during Donald Trump’s inaugural weekend. Take a look.

ADVERTISEMENT:The US Senate will vote to confirm Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s used transparent, smart regulations to protect our air and water without stifling development of America’s abundant natural resources.

BILL MOYERS: That’s an ad sponsored by one of the biggest and most powerful trade associations in the country — the National Association of Manufacturers. The NAM ran three ads like it during inaugural week, all of them aimed at bringing public pressure to bear on the US Senate to confirm Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. And just who, you might ask, is Scott Pruitt?

SCOTT PRUITT: It is an honor and a privilege to be before you today to be considered for the position of EPA administrator.

MOYERS: Pruitt is Oklahoma’s attorney general. His salary of more than $260,000 is paid by taxpayers, but Pruitt really works for the energy industry. He’s a political profiteer whose career in public office is built on taking money from corporations and doing their bidding.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): It appears that a great deal of your fundraising comes from these organizations who are in the energy sector and devoted to fighting climate change.

MOYERS: At Pruitt’s recent confirmation hearings before Congress, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island tried to unravel the web of corporate influence around Scott Pruitt.

WHITEHOUSE: Devon Energy, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil have all maxed out to that account, at various times.

PRUITT: I’m not aware if they have maxed out or not, Senator, but I’m sure that they have given to that committee.

MOYERS: Now, take a look at this letter. In 2011 the Environmental Protection Agency was trying to limit methane gas leaking from drilling operations like that of Devon Energy, one of those oil and gas companies that donate to him. Pruitt wrote the EPA on behalf of the company. Turns out the letter was drafted, almost to the word, by lawyers for Devon Energy.

PRUITT: That is the letter that is on my letterhead that was sent to the EPA, yes. With respect to the issue —

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Do you acknowledge that 97 percent of the words in that letter came directly from Devon Energy?

PRUITT: I have not looked at the percentages, sir.

MERKLEY: You used your office as a direct extension of an oil company, rather than a direct extension of the interests of the public health of the people of Oklahoma.

MOYERS: Something else: As attorney general Scott Pruitt has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times. The New York Times found that 13 of those lawsuits included co-parties that had given money to Pruitt’s campaign or to an affiliated PAC. Most of the suits failed. But that didn’t deter Pruitt or his donors. According to the publication Energy and Environment News, the more he sued, the more the energy dollars rolled in.

So why does Donald Trump want a lackey for the big energy companies to run the agency charged with protecting the public from pollution? And why did the National Association of Manufacturers run ads like this for a man so obviously not a defender of the public interest?

Because Trump and the industry can count Pruitt on their side, as his record shows, in preventing the EPA from holding big business accountable for the environment and public safety. After all, when he became attorney general of Oklahoma, he shut down the state’s environmental enforcement unit.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): Honestly, people are going to think that it’s not just the fox guarding the hen house, it’s the fox destroying the hen house because you haven’t distanced yourself from the actual litigation that you have initiated on most of the key issues that you are now going to have responsibility for protecting in terms of the public health of the entire country.

PRUITT: And Senator, I can say to you unequivocally, I will recuse as directed by EPA ethics counsel.

MOYERS: Scott Pruitt fits right into Trump’s world. In his first week in office Donald Trump has aimed a sledgehammer at the EPA. Within hours of his swearing in, he ordered a freeze on all new environmental rules pending review, suspended all federal environmental grants and contracts, thus stalling billions of dollars that were heading to key operations like air pollution monitoring, water quality testing and environmental research.

Then he ordered all outward communication from the EPA to stop — no social media, no conferences, no meetings between the agency and the public. So if you want to know if there’s work being done to clean up a superfund site, too bad. If you want to know the role of fracking in Oklahoma’s earthquakes, sorry. Whether the emissions of an industry in your hometown comply with federal safety laws? You’ll have to guess.

And there’s more. He’s opposed climate science.

PRUITT: As I indicated in my opening statement, the climate is changing and human activity contributes to that in some manner.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): In some manner? Ninety-seven percent of the scientists who wrote articles in peer-reviewed journals believe that human activity is the fundamental reason we are seeing climate change; you disagree with that?

PRUITT: I believe the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activities’ impact on the climate, is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it.

MOYERS: We should remember that Richard Nixon, a Republican president, signed the legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency back in l970. It was part of the movement to restore a country that had been despoiled by industrial abuse.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: The environmental agenda before the Congress includes laws to deal with water pollution, pesticide hazards, ocean dumping, excessive noise, careless land development and many other environmental problems. These problems will not stand still for politics or for partisanship.

MOYERS: Trump’s wrecking crew says environmental regulations impede the progress and profits of companies. But if you think those companies and their so-called “free market” will, without safety provisions, make America great again. Well here’s is what turning back the clock could look like:

These are the EPA’s own photographs taken for the record as the agency began its work. Rivers were polluted. Lead gasoline threatened the developing brains of children. Trash choked harbors, and illegal dumping leached into groundwater, agricultural run off suffocated marine waterways. Unfettered industries were running our country to ruin. There, before your eyes, is our past.

It’s no wonder the founders of our government feared corruption in high office. They knew it could lead to bribery, nepotism and the abuse of power by a government aligned with the great monied interests — such as the East India Tea Company. They knew it could enable of public officials to neglect their duty to the public and serve instead the design of wealth.

At the end of the first week of Donald Trump’s first hundred days, those founders must be turning in their graves.

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  1. Foppe

    I really don’t see this stance of suddenly being against “govt aligning with monied interests” working, so long as the Ds who are calling him out are equally sponsored, if by different interests.
    I also think that the experiment with elected AGs (as I assume Pruitt is/was) has failed.

    1. makedoanmend

      Yep, gotta mostly agree,

      No more payola puppets. We have the puppeteers up front and centre stage.

      We’re all gonna get front row seats to watch the already filthy rich accumulate and accumulate whilst making our environments dangerous, toxic and filthy. We can glow in the power of their accumulative instincts.

      Most of us will wile away our remaining time playing the blame game and passing the popcorn.

      Our children and grandchildren will love and revere us. Hard to know what history will make of us. That’s if there is a history of us.


      1. oh

        This payola puppet was confirmed by the other payola puppets each playing their pre-determined Kabuki role. Bravo!

  2. homeroid

    I have for some time thought. If we put our best an brightest on it. We could be extinct so much sooner.

  3. vlade

    Well, isn’t this how you bring back jobs from China (those that were exported before as part of exporting the US pollution somewhere else?)

    1. curlydan

      It does unfortunately fit into Donald and Co.’s twisted version of “America First”. As they say and try to end our dependence on foreign oil (good luck) and generate a few domestic jobs and pump up those corporate profits, we’ll get earthquakes, ruined water, pipelines, fracking, and diseases. But that’s all long-term and “who cares?” $#!+ for these Republicans.

      We get the greedy, myopic real-estate developer we voted for (or at least in the 10 states that mattered).

  4. Marco

    Thought Experiment: Trump waves his magic wand and US global supply chains collapse. Suddenly all the pollution in Beijing and Tianjin magically appears in NYC, SF and Chicago. Are we happy making iPhones and LCDs and solar tech here? At least we will have the jobs. Hopefully. Will they be union jobs? I’m sure Sec Perez will make sure they are. What a glorious future.

    1. Vatch

      Edward Hugler is the Acting Secretary of Labor, and Trump has nominated Andrew Puzder to become the new Secretary of Labor.

      Manufacturing doesn’t have to cause heavy amounts of pollution. But without proper enforcement of the nation’s laws, there will be plenty of poisons pumped into our atmosphere, lakes, rivers, and soil. If Scott Pruitt becomes the EPA Administrator, and Trump brings manufacturing back to the U.S., we can expect increases in a wide variety of diseases — cancers, birth defects, neurological disorders, emphysema, and autoimmune disorders.

      1. Marco

        My apologies confusing Perez for Puzder (wassup with all the P’s?) No more commenting before morning coffee. But to answer tegnost (below) I am hardly an innovator but a barely employed software dev. I hope we can move away from a financialized to a manufacturing economy. But there will be a price to pay and it certainly won’t happen overnight. And I agree Americans deserve all the pollution their consumption creates! Crammed down our throats.

    2. tegnost

      lambert called himself cynical, but really it’s you and the innnovative disrupters that actually are. No problem for you to pollute the other part of the globe and have suicide nets for your workforce, just not in you own backyard. Why not innovate a new way of doing things rather than subsidise the ridiculous savings glut of multinational corps? Public transport pollutes less than uber for all, right? So you’re against uber and for more and cheaper public transportation, surely. Funny how we as a country are supposed to have so much concern for the foreign workers taking jobs that people here could do (of course never heard all the tech workers complain about the hordes of mexicans decimating the livelihood of construction until it got to them, but hey I enjoy the companionship so ride along I’m fine with that) but pollute their country so you can all buy stupid “smart” phones every year and throw away the unending stream of useless garbage as the next big thing replaces it…into your local landfill who probably ships it all back to china.

  5. julia

    I find it disturbing that Bernie Sanders demands a believe into this strange and vage consens of man made global warming. This simplifies everything. The consens was related to scientists writting for a specific paper and it says nothing about how warm, how dangerous and what best to do. And there are many problems relating to scientific consens.
    I am against pollution and waste and I think we have to allow public and expert discussions about which way we want to go and which way best to go ( better building codes, ways to get out of the buildt in trap of obsolescense, public transport, low energy cooking stoves for developing countries are just some examples of possibilities)
    Not to forget that climate changes allways and we might, like in the past, be confronted quite suddenly with global cooling or heating utterly independent from human influences. It would be good to prepare for this possibility a bit.
    Having said this does not mean at all that I am in any way a fan of a Scott Pruitt, nor of his approach to enviromental politics.

    1. Vatch

      Pruitt is so bad, his views on global warming are almost irrelevant. There are many reasons why everyone should oppose him, and based on the final sentence in your comment, I think you agree.

  6. blert

    I’m embarrassed that Bernie Sanders fell for the 97% figure.

    The best:

    It (97%) just should not be trotted out. It’s too weak. It implies that science ‘works’ by polling.


    When Newton and Einstein came out with their theories — they were all alone.

    Forty-years ago, when I told my professor that the Moon must cause the Earth, itself, to flex — tidally — that it was so stiff that this would produce a pronounced cam-action in the gravity field between Earth and Moon — he went off on a tirade. I’d touched his PhD thesis to its core.

    Today, my theory is the orthodox view. He ran back to CalTech to amend his computations. ( For JPL )

    Good science comes from asking the right questions… not burying debate.

  7. blert

    The biosphere cranks out methane 24 hours a day… in astounding amounts.

    We can’t possibly shut it off.

    We need not worry. Of all the gases, methane is the most unstable in our oxygenated air. Sunlight destroys it as fast as it shows up. It is always totally converted to carbon dioxide and water vapor.

    That’s why it can only ever be detected at trace levels… unless you’re right next to a geological source.

    The world has a lot of pollution problems. ( Mexico, Red China, There is no need to charging off after something that is driven by nature more than man. (methane)

    1. Vatch

      A lot of the methane that is being released was sequestered for tens of thousands of years in bogs close to the Arctic. As a result of anthropogenic climate warming, the bogs are thawing, and the methane is being released. That methane would not be released now if humans hadn’t burned huge amounts of coal, petroleum, and natural gas that had been sequestered underground for tens of millions or in some cases, hundreds of millions of years. That combustion released vast amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide over the past two hundred years, and especially over the past hundred.

      1. blert

        No matter WHAT the source, methane can’t survive today’s atmosphere and solar UV radiation.

        It’s a ‘problem’ that nature takes care of itself.

        In the over all picture, Arctic bogs are a joke… ’cause plain old cow farts are so voluminous.

        Concentrate on real hazards to health.

        Coal soot has to be at the top of the list.

        Methane and water vapor are two components that humanity can never control. They are driven by the biosphere.

        1. Vatch

          No, the problem does not take care of itself. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and after the methane has been degraded, one of its byproducts is carbon dioxide, which lasts much longer. There’s also the problem of methane clathrates in the ocean floor which release methane into the atmosphere as the oceans warm. And of course, there’s waste methane caused by petroleum and natural gas drilling — there’s nothing natural about that.

          Of course I agree that burning coal is terrible for people’s health, and we can be confident that Scott Pruitt won’t do anything about that problem. Although he’s the Oklahoma Attorney General, he has publicly opposed the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay. He has reluctantly changed his public position this, but behind the scenes he will very likely do as much to delay this as possible.

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