Five (More) Pruitt Scandals That You Should Know About, But Probably Don’t

April 4, 2018 | 10:06 am
Josh Goldman
Former Contributor

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been hit with a string of brewing corruption scandals that go beyond merely ordering a soundproof “privacy booth” that cost taxpayers up to $25,000, or spending over $105,000 on first-class flights in his first year on the job.

Stories broke this week that Pruitt allegedly: (1) rented a condo linked to lobbyists who represented an oil pipeline project the EPA approved last year and who donated to Pruitt’s campaign to become Oklahoma Attorney General, (2) looked into renting a private jet that would cost U.S. taxpayers $100,000…a month, (3) gave two of his staffers raises under a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), but not to actually work on water safety, and (4) lied to Congress about his use of private email to conduct government business.

This misuse of taxpayer dollars and pay-to-play corruption is infuriating – though unsurprising given what else is going on in this Administration – and indicates the type of person we have in charge of the federal agency charged with protecting our air, water, and health.

Pruitt doesn’t give two quarks about the U.S. taxpayer. Instead, these potential ethics violations highlight Pruitt’s penchant for using the office of the EPA Administrator to further industry interests, give handouts to his inner circle, and hide the evidence all along the way.

Although these corruption allegations are making headlines today, equal or greater attention must be paid to Pruitt’s somewhat quieter crusade to rollback regulations designed to protect our health and environment. These regulatory “reforms” haven’t garnered as much press coverage as Pruitt’s lavish spending, lobbyist connections, or shady dealings, but they are based on the same type of corrupt moral code Pruitt brings to the EPA and will cost more than just taxpayer dollars.

So, here are 5 regulatory rollback efforts currently underway at EPA that will impact our health and safety, and must be making headlines too

(1) Rollback of the “Glider Truck Rule”

Glider trucks are brand new truck bodies that manufactures cram an old polluting truck engine into so that the truck looks new from the outside but has an ancient polluting relic of an engine on the inside. The particulate matter emissions from these vehicles are estimated to cause 1,600 premature deaths each year. Pruitt’s EPA reopened a loophole that was closed under the Obama Administration so that these trucks can now be made primarily by a single company that has funded bogus science and anti-EPA politicians.

(2) Delay of Chemical Safety Standards

EPA had previously designed a suite of updated rules to protect fence-line communities and first responders from chemical accidents that happen like clockwork across the country. Over 2,000 incidents were reported between 2004 and 2013, and lives were lost. Over 17,000 people were injured and 59 people were killed during this period, and over 400,000 people experienced evacuations or shelter-in place orders because of a chemical-related accident. Upon entering office, Administrator Pruitt put this rule on hold almost 2 years later than the rule was supposed to go into effect. In just the last year, 33 more accidents occurred at facilities covered by these rules, and the consequences of these accidents may have been lessened or avoided if EPA didn’t initiate this delay.

(3) Rollback of the light-duty vehicle fuel efficiency standards

The light-duty vehicle fuel efficiency standards are a joint effort by EPA and DOT to improve the average fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles. These standards have been shown to not only reduce oil use and pollution, but also create jobs, give consumers more fuel-efficient vehicles across all vehicle classes, and have been widely supported. But, the EPA now doesn’t care about any of that as they have signaled that they are going to reconsider or rollback the fuel efficiency rules covering vehicle model years through 2025. This decision overturns thousands of pages of hard evidence, good science, and sound data, and undercuts one of the most important climate policies that is still on the books.

(4) Repeal of the Clean Power Plan

Last fall, the EPA issued a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a policy designed to reduce emissions from electric power generation approximately 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. By the EPA’s own estimates, the Clean Power Plan would prevent 90,000 pediatric asthma attacks and save 4,500 lives each year. The agency is still taking comment on that proposal, which, in addition to making a mockery of the value of human health and the environment, attempts to reinterpret the Clean Air Act as well as how the power system works in order to avoid the need for meaningful regulatory action. UCS, along with 250,000 others, submitted comments to EPA in support of maintaining this policy, though EPA is forecast to rule in favor of industry, rather than individuals.

(5) Failure to require mining companies to clean up their waste

Pruitt’s EPA decided not to finalize a proposal that would have required mining companies to prove they have the financial means to clean up pollution at mining sites, despite an industry legacy of abandoned mines that have fouled waterways across the country. The estimated 500,000 abandoned mine lands in the U.S. can pollute waterways for more than 100 years and pose significant risks to surface and ground water. Pruitt claimed that safe-checking mining companies with a long history of pollution was unnecessary and enforcing a regulation that makes mining companies clean up their mess would impose an undue burden.

Guess who now has to foot these bills? The U.S. taxpayer. EPA spent $1.1 billion on mining cleanups between 2010 and 2014 and EPA’s own documents report at least 52 mines and their processing sites have had spills and pollution releases since 1980. Hard-rock mining companies would have faced a combined $7.1 billion financial obligation under the dropped rule, costing them up to $171 million annually to set aside sufficient funds to pay for future cleanups, according to an EPA analysis. These costs will likely now be borne by the taxpayer instead of the responsible parties.