Today, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a “longtime adversary of the EPA,” as the Washington Post put it, takes over the US Environmental Protection Agency. But he takes it over under the shadow of unprecedented opposition from US Senators, EPA employees and public interest groups.
Forty-six senators voted against his confirmation, a significantly higher number of “no” votes than any other EPA Administrator has received (many of whom have been approved with unanimous consent.) That’s a big statement of concern about a president’s nominee to head an agency that does more than any other to protect Americans from pollution.
The opposition was bi-partisan – Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted against Pruitt, saying that Pruitt’s “…actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.”
Democrats also showed a remarkable unity in opposing Pruitt, with just Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) voting to approve Pruitt’s confirmation. Considering how many Democrats are in states that voted for Trump, the cohesiveness is strong testament to how deeply runs the sense that he is unfit for the job.
That said, the record opposition, its bi-partisan nature and the Democratic unity isn’t that surprising– because he’s by far the worst ever pick to lead EPA.
The real surprise is that not more senators voted against a man who has made a career of trying to stop EPA from carrying out its central mission – improving the air we breathe, the water we drink and the lands where we live, work and play. And in between his denials that climate change is happening at all, Scott Pruitt isn’t even ready to admit that the problem is even worth tackling.
In fact, taking America’s top cop off the environmental beat is not what the American people want. Not by a country mile… A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that Americans support environmental protections and oppose polluting projects. The polling, conducted earlier this month, found that
– A total of 72 percent of American voters are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about climate change.
– Sixty-one percent oppose removing specific regulations intended to combat climate change.
– Fifty-nine percent think “more needs to be done to address climate change.
And, a solid block of Americans seem to oppose projects and investments that will make climate change worse, as Quinnipiac found that fifty-percent of Americans oppose restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
Now, it won’t be surprising that environmental groups opposed Pruitt’s confirmation. But environmental groups were joined by a lot of other voices in urging the Senate to reject Pruitt. For example, one letter was signed by over 500 Environmental, Health, Labor, Faith, Community, Business, Advocacy, and Elected Officials. A lot of groups made their own statements.
Here’s just a sample:
- A statement from over 70 faith leaders, posted on the Evangelical Environmental Network’s blog, said “The EPA Administrator plays a crucial role in defending all of us from the health consequences of pollution, especially vulnerable populations like the unborn, children, the elderly, those with heart and lung conditions, and others with special susceptibilities. Mr. Pruitt’s past actions suggest he would not defend the vulnerable from pollution.”
Additional faith-based statements opposing Pruitt were made by Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, Creation Justice Ministries and The Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life, leaders from 26 faith organizations and 6 Massachusetts Bishops.
- Hispanic Federation President José Calderon told The Hill that “These days it seems awfully hard to point to many things all Americans have in common, but survey after survey shows that clean drinking water, unpolluted air, good jobs, and choices for where we get our energy matter a great deal to the overwhelming majority of us. After all, no one voted for more dirty water for our families to drink. Or for more air pollution for our children to breathe. So, it’s clear that our present nominee for EPA Administrator does not reflect our values, and it’s our obligation to fight for an administrator who does.”
- Leaders and groups focused on African-American issues and rights also weighed in, with comments from Reverend Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus, Green For All and the National Action Network.
The list of opposing groups doesn’t end there. Pruitt’s confirmation was also opposed by the Truman National Security Project, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, People’s Action, Leading LGBT Advocates, Public Citizen, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Sustainable Business Council and more than 500 Business Leaders, 13 Former Heads of State Environmental Protection Agencies, Nine Attorneys General, Members of the BlueGreen Alliance and the National Congress of American Indians.
Despite all this, too many members of the US Senate sided with polluters over people. Ok, then. Going forward, NRDC [and the NRDC Action Fund] will be monitoring Pruitt’s every move, and we’ll work with all these voices to resist any and every rollback of standards that protect our children and families from dangerous pollution, whatever the kind and whatever the source. We are fully prepared to fight Polluting Pruitt every step of the way — and using every tool available to us. The health of our children and future generations are on the line.
Pete Altman is a senior adviser to the NRDC Action Fund.