Washington Watch: EPA’s Swamp Monster
Unchastened by a growing ethics crisis, the EPA’s own swamp monster continued to throw bombs at the environment, even while his position as head of the agency seems in growing jeopardy.
Scott Pruitt, the pro-polluter head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), came under withering fire last week over his ethics deficiencies: his sweetheart deal with the spouse of an oil lobbyist on a Washington condo for himself, and the improper pay hikes at EPA for two favored aides. The storm seems to be growing, as Donald Trump himself has started to sound less confident of retaining his latest embattled Cabinet-level official.
Dumping Scott Pruitt out of his post as EPA administrator can’t come soon enough for our environment. Two of this past week’s poorest choices underscore that point.
Pruitt’s decision to can the EPA’s previous direction requiring the substantial improvement of auto fuel efficiency standards was based on sorry science, and heavy on the political grease. It was a high-profile and widely reported case of anti-environmental policy-making.
Environmental advocates’ reaction to the Pruitt move was typified by the statement from League of Conservation Voters (LCV) vice president Sara Chieffo: “Instead of answering for his sweetheart deal on a luxury condo in the home of a top energy lobbyist, Scott Pruitt is once again acting on polluter lobbyists’ behalf by moving forward a rollback his former landlord likely pushed as a lobbyist for the auto industry. This is a blatant example of this administration’s corrupt industry ties having dangerous consequences for our communities. People across the country support the clean car standards because they save money at the gas pump, protect our health and our environment, create jobs, and drive innovation. Pruitt’s justification for rolling them back uses shoddy data and ignores the facts, which clearly show that these fuel efficiency standards are working.”
Far less attention was paid to an internal process directive by Pruitt on EPA water and wetland permit decisions that could be just as damaging to clean water as his auto efficiency decision could be to clean air. It was revealed last week that Pruitt had directed all EPA regional offices to immediately cede to him all final decisions under the Clean Water Act on determinations related to the preservation of waters and wetlands.
This outrageous choice to take site-specific technical decisions out of the hands of agency scientists and centralize them in the hands of an anti-environment politician presents the likelihood of wide-ranging damage to clean water, wildlife, and fisheries. The whistle was blown on this Pruitt pro-polluter maneuver by the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
“This action subjects safeguards for clean water across the U.S. to filtration through one politician’s hands,” stated PEER New England Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney, scientist, and wetlands specialist who formerly worked for EPA. “Every corporation that wants a pass on Clean Water Act compliance is invited to privately meet with the most ‘user friendly’ EPA Administrator in history.”
It seems that the only “swamps” Pruitt is interested in draining are the literal ones—the wetlands that protect clean water for all Americans. It’s time—far past time—for this ethics-challenged EPA Swamp Monster to be sent home in disgrace.