On Feb. 17 the Senate voted 52-46 in favor of Scott Pruitt becoming the E.P.A. administrator.
President Trump’s selection of Scott Pruitt may be good politics, but his appointment is going to create a public health disaster. Our bedrock environmental laws were passed by Congress decades ago with broad bipartisan support. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were wildly popular when they passed, and were continually strengthened by the EPA establishment by Nixon. The agency’s authority was strengthened by another Republican, George H.W. Bush. For the past four decades protecting our air and water and ensuring the health of our families has enjoyed strong bipartisan support from elected officials and a majority of Americans.
Scott Pruitt’s track record as Oklahoma Attorney General paints a bleak picture of what his leadership of the agency would mean for American families. Pruitt joined polluters in a staggering 14 lawsuits against the very agency he has been selected to lead. Pruitt’s proposed gutting of the E.P.A. and revisions to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts would significantly affect the public health of Missourians.
Missouri has a long history of lead mining. The lack of regulation in the past and present has produced astronomically high lead levels in Missouri’s soils, groundwater, rivers and air. Unfortunately, Missourians also have to worry about airborne lead from the burning of coal—from which Missouri derives 75 percent of its energy. Exposure to lead is extremely detrimental to human health and can result in lead poisoning, which primarily leads to stunted brain development, reproductive problems, death, cognitive defects, etc. Thankfully the E.P.A. has been able to monitor lead levels, remediate some of the pollution and warn residents of dangerous lead sources.
Burning coal produces much more than just lead. As we know, coal is one of the primary sources of energy in the United States; it accounts for 49 percent of the energy we produce, but disproportionately accounts for 83 percent of carbon emissions. Unfortunately, Missouri derives 75 percent of its energy from coal and thus has some of the worst air quality in the country, particularly in St. Louis. Across the United States 9.6 percent of children have asthma, in St. Louis that number is 19.6 percent. Ameren has resisted the Clean Power Plan for a long time, but thankfully the E.P.A. has been able to keep them and other polluters in check.
Pruitt’s track record as attorney general set environmental protections backward not forward. And it has been difficult to find anything AG Pruitt did to protect the health of the Oklahomans during his time in that office. As Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey noted during Pruitt’s confirmation hearing, Oklahoma has been ground zero for asthma problems, which affect 1 in every 10 kids in the state.
Mr. Pruitt’s knowledge of science—which should underpin all decisions made by the E.P.A.—is lacking, as is his familiarity with some of the most basic and pressing issues facing the agency he hopes to direct. He has said human-caused climate change is a matter of “continuing debate.” He had no comment on how much lead in drinking water could harm humans, nor on the potential health impacts of exercising outdoors on a day with poor air quality. In fact, Pruitt could not identify one E.P.A. safeguard that he actually supports.
Ironically, Pruitt’s loyalty to fossil fuel interests is easier to identify. Pruitt accepted approximately $350,000 from the fossil fuel industry, including the infamous Koch Brothers. On more than one occasion, Pruitt sponsored letters written by oil companies with his official attorney general letterhead and signature to object to E.P.A. policy. Pruitt serves as stark opposition to the vast majority of Americans who continue to support laws protecting clean air and water, stopping the worst impacts of climate change, and keeping our families healthy.
Missourians and all Americans deserve an E.P.A. administrator who will fight to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, our planet and our economy.