Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Scott Pruitt’s Incredible, Perpetual, Public Time-Wasting Machine

, Energy analyst | May 11, 2018, 11:33 am EDT
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The limbo king of record worsts has notched another low.

Last month, awash in an unrelenting cycle of scandal after headline-stealing scandal, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt found himself summoned to a day of hearings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The performance affirmed an agency head devoid of personal accountability, with Mr. Pruitt managing to gasp his way to another day solely by clambering atop the back of one scapegoat after the next.

But even more arresting than that shameless show was the display of Mr. Pruitt’s overt disregard for science and statute. When confronted with questions about his evident regulatory malfeasance, such as by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree around his roll-back of the Clean Power Plan, Administrator Pruitt had the audacity to defend himself by suggesting he was simply awaiting policy vetting from “the marketplace”:

“I’ve actually introduced an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in the marketplace to solicit comment on our authority to regulate GHG.”

The catch, of course, is that this “marketplace” has already weighed in. Fully and completely. That authority in question? It’s already been determined. And that resulting authority? It was developed into a proposed rule. And that proposed rule? It was revised and strengthened based on expert insights and public comment. And that resulting revision? It was issued as a final rule. And hey, get this: that final rule? It was already even considered in court.

But Administrator Pruitt has elected to overlook all that and head straight back to square one—not just for the Clean Power Plan, but for rule, after rule, after ruleignoring those scientific inputs, blocking those expert comments, and forestalling those relevant legal judgments.

Marvel, indeed, at E. Scott Pruitt’s Incredible Perpetual Public Time-Wasting Machine.

Oh, how low that man can go.

Mr. Pruitt goes to market

Now you’d be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, Administrator Pruitt was referring to when he pushed back against assertions of inaction by suggesting he was simply awaiting direction from “the marketplace.”

The marketplace? Which marketplace?

Well, we know it can’t be the economic marketplace, because although one would be forgiven for concluding that Mr. Pruitt only navigates by the light of the corporate stars, the administrator spent the bulk of his latest visit to the Hill swearing up and down and side to side that there was nary a Pruitt impropriety to be found. Clean as a whistle, straight shooter through and through.

We also know it can’t be the legal marketplace, because it turns out that Mr. Pruitt has done everything he can to stave off Clean Power Plan judgments from the courts, despite the fact that the court has already heard the case, and, what’s more, the EPA is now mind-bogglingly using the resulting “legal uncertainty” and existence of “open questions” to support its decision to return to regulation creation square one.

And so it must be, then, that Mr. Pruitt intended to suggest his work would be informed by the marketplace of ideas, otherwise known as expert opinions, science advisement, and public comment.

Of course, up until this moment the administrator has been working incredibly hard to consistently and repeatedly ignore, block, or reject all the inputs, evaluations, and expert judgments that have been previously submitted to said marketplace. Like for the Clean Power Plan. And fuel efficiency standards. And hazardous air pollutants. And coal ash. And chemical disasters. And methane leakage. And on, and on, and on.

But still.

For the moment, let’s meet him where he says is. To the marketplace we’ll go!

The Clean Power Plan takes another spin ’round the public comment block

It just so happens that on the same day as Mr. Pruitt’s recent hearings, the Clean Power Plan—the nation’s landmark rule on carbon emission standards for the electric power sector—was confronting something of an ignominious milestone of its own: the deadline for comment on its Pruitt-proposed repeal.

Now because Administrator Pruitt has ostensibly committed himself to being guided by these comments, it seems instructive to take a closer look. So here, an array of excerpts from the more than 1 million submissions the EPA has received—starting with those from select relevant scientific, oversight, business, and governing experts:

  • Prominent climate scientists: “The compelling motivation for a United States response to human-caused climate change, including its increasingly damaging impacts, have led a number of us to participate both in defending the CPP as amici in the earlier D.C. Circuit Case, as well as now strongly urging against the rescission of the CPP proposed currently.”
  • Former FERC commissioners: “We are a group of former Commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), who were appointed by President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama. […] The CPP does not interfere with the authority of FERC, nor does it threaten the affordability and reliability of the nation’s electricity supply. EPA’s suggestions to the contrary are incorrect and are not an adequate basis for its proposed repeal of this important measure to address climate change.”
  • Apple Inc.: “Apple believes the United States must re-assert its position as a global leader by deploying well-designed, nationwide strategies – with flexibility for states – to regulate and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. Apple believes the Clean Power Plan is one of those strategies. […] Repealing the Clean Power Plan will subject consumers like Apple and our large manufacturing partners to increased investment uncertainty, and frustrate reasonable expectations.”
  • US Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities: “We oppose the Agency’s efforts to repeal the CPP, as well as have concerns with the process the Agency is using to repeal and potentially replace the CPP. […] The nation’s mayors, councilmembers and cities strongly support the CPP as a means of nationally reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the growing negative impacts of climate change on our communities.”
  • Joint Comments of Environmental, Health, and Conservation Groups: “The Proposal’s complete flight from facts and evidence and abdication of the Administrator’s decision-making responsibility render the Proposal unlawful and arbitrary and capricious.”

UCS also filed comments of our own, as well as with coalition partners relating to the unlawful nature of the proposed repeal, the faulty assessments found in its supporting Regulatory Impact Analysis, a reiteration of climate science, and the flawed estimates of the social cost of carbon.

The Peoples Climate Movement, Washington, D.C., 2017. Credit: Audrey Eyring/UCS.

Our comments reminded the administrator that climate change is a real and urgent threat, and that the EPA has clearly established authority—and obligation—to limit greenhouse gas emissions. We called out the insufficient rationale for repeal, as well as the flagrantly unlawful disregard for the robust record underpinning the rule. Finally, we hammered the agency’s intentionally deceptive analytical practices that overstated costs, understated benefits, and effectively ignored at-risk populations.

And then, of course, there were the million or so other comments submitted to the docket, impassioned and thoughtful, touching on issues from asthma and public health to clean energy and the nation we hope to be.

To be sure, these offer just the faintest hint of a glimpse. No matter what, though, it seems clear that if Administrator Pruitt is actually ready to move forward with these comments, and not just use them to further stall, he’s got a whole lot of external intelligence to work with.

Looking up, looking ahead

It seems hard to believe that Administrator Pruitt has much time left at EPA, what with wave after pounding wave of scandal cresting and crashing upon him. But today, even as the flotsam and jetsam of corruption and malfeasance buffet him about, he’s still the head of the EPA, and he’s still setting record lows.

It’s time to stop wasting people’s time, and devastating public health.

It’s time to pull EPA back from the depths, and realign the agency’s work with its mission: to protect public health and the environment.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Posted in: Energy, Global Warming, Science and Democracy Tags: ,

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