Pruitt EPA Appointment Ominous for Environmental Justice Communities

December 19, 2016 | 3:36 pm
Juan Declet-Barreto
Senior Social Scientist for Climate Vulnerability

Contempt for the EPA’s mission and prioritizing the interests of fossil fuel industries are incompatible with ensuring protection of communities on the frontlines of climate impacts and environmental pollution. After all, the Environmental Protection Agency’s fundamental mission is to “protect human health and the environment—air, water, and land”. So it’s a little mind-boggling to see how Scott Pruitt—President-elect Trump’s pick for the agency’s top job—will fulfill that mission if he is confirmed to the post.

Such is Mr. Pruitt’s disdain for the scientific and legal basis of the EPA’s mission to protect people and environments that he has joined multi-state legal challenges to regulations to curb methane, as well as water and power-sector pollution, and has characterized the Clean Power Plan as “unlawful and overreaching”. As my colleague Angela Anderson has said, the next EPA leader should take us forward in addressing the challenges of climate change, not reverse existing standards that we know are working. How can Mr. Pruitt be well-suited to lead an agency that he has demonstrated so much contempt for? Quite simply—he’s not. His record on this matter is clear: he’s focused on eliminating the environmental protections that prevent companies like Devon Energy—with which Mr. Pruitt has formed what the New York Times called a “secretive alliance” to undermine environmental protections—from putting profits before the health of people and the environment. Pruitt’s actions to weaken our most important environmental regulations are right out of the polluting industries’ playbook.  My friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council are also scratching their heads trying to find one good reason to appoint an enemy of the health of people and environments to lead the EPA.

But there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about how a Pruitt EPA will weaken equity in environmental quality for climate-vulnerable populations.  For example, the recently-finalized guidance instructing EPA programs and regions to consider environmental justice in rulemaking could be undermined or ignored altogether. And what of EJ 2020 Action Agenda, the agency’s long-term environmental justice strategy? These internal actions by the EPA improve the agency’s ability to include historically-underrepresented communities in environmental decision-making, mainly minority, low-income, and indigenous populations and sovereign tribal nations, precisely the communities that bear the starkest disproportionate environmental burdens. Leading environmental justice organizations agree, and have expressed concern about the growing threat of environmental racism under a Pruitt-led EPA.

Many of the country's largest power plants are located in or close to low-income communities.

Many of the country’s largest power plants are located in or close to low-income communities.

Pruitt’s appointment threatens to not only undermine environmental protections for the most vulnerable, but also to decrease community engagement in the environmental decision-making process, thereby eroding democratic rights, the responsible use of science in environmental policy, and the health and well-being of environmental justice communities across the country. Recent proposals in Congress by his allies undermine the connection of science to policy and the ability of the public to have a voice.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has strongly condemned the nomination of Scott Pruitt to the EPA as unacceptable. We have also been joined by over 2300 scientists—including 22 Nobel laureates—in urging the President-elect and Congress to take action to keep the safeguards afforded to all Americans by the Clean Air Act and other bedrock environmental legislation.

Are you a scientist? Read and sign our open letter to President-elect Trump and Congress to ensure that federal science and scientists are protected.