EPA Hearing Must Raise Tough Questions on Science, Enforcement of Laws and Industry Relationships

Scott Pruitt at 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Scott Pruitt at 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Wednesday’s hearing on the nominee for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency may prove to be the most important hearing for the EPA since it was established 47 years ago by Republican President Nixon and Bill Ruckelshaus. One common trait shared by the twelve men and women who have been confirmed by the Senate to serve as Administrator was a deep respect for sound science.  There have of course been differing priorities, disagreements about the appropriate balance within the cooperative federalism relationship, and the budget and size of the Agency, but no Administrator has fundamentally questioned science or deeply questioned the authorities of the agency.

That is until now. If confirmed, Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt would be the first EPA Administrator to have openly questioned established science and expressed broad disdain for the work of the Agency.  He has sued over whether carbon pollution is dangerous and to stop the Clean Power Plan.  He sued to stop rules to reduce mercury pollution, oxides of nitrogen, and sulfur dioxide.  He sued to stop EPA from reducing water pollution entering upstream tributaries and wetlands. The issue that he made the most sense on was his opposition to the harmful Renewable Fuel Standard, a position he’s shifted since being nominated.

These actions have lead multiple former EPA Administrators appointed by Republican presidents to question the nomination.  Bill Reilly, EPA Administrator under President George H.W. Bush, put it this way, “Science is the secular religion underlying everything EPA does, and one who cannot rely on it, or is determinedly contemptuous of it, cannot effectively lead the agency or serve as the country’s environmental conscience.”  Christine Todd Whitman, EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush, was even more candid, saying “I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.”

But it’s not just questions about whether the nominee will support sound science and uphold federal environmental laws, there are also growing questions about Pruitt’s close relationship with industry and whether those relationships influenced various lawsuits and correspondence.

At Wednesday’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee hearing, Scott Pruitt will speak publicly for the first time since his nomination about his record and his views on clean air, clean water, and protecting America’s wildlife and great outdoors. Before any Senator considers voting for confirmation, it is essential that serious questions are answered about his views on science, his willingness to uphold federal protections for wildlife, clean air, and clean water, and his relationships with regulated industries.

On Thursday last week, we stood with Delaware Senator Tom Carper, ranking member of EPW, and his colleagues to reaffirm the importance of ensuring that EPA is guided by science. The National Wildlife Federation, including 36 of our state and territorial affiliates, also wrote to the members of the EPW Committee detailing the long list of threats facing wildlife, fish, birds, and their habitats. While we look forward to working with the Trump administration and members of Congress from both political parties to protect wildlife, it’s important to get clear answers to these critical questions.

Here’s a long excerpt from our letter to EPW senators:

Over the past fifty years, as much as half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared, while in the United States one-third of our native species are at elevated risk of extinction. Thousands of our species, including birds, pollinators, fish, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals, have suffered significant population losses since 1970. While decades of conservation efforts and investments have resulted in significant conservation achievements, the pressure and trends on overall wildlife populations must be recognized and confronted by our governing leaders.

As the Senate begins its review and confirmation of the new Administration’s cabinet nominees, we will hope and expect to see nominees demonstrate an understanding and commitment to these basic conservation principles:

  • Sound science must be the basis for making natural resource policy and management practices; and investment in natural resource/conservation science research must continue.
  • Overall investments in wildlife conservation must be increased to help counter population declines and pressures on the Endangered Species Act, while helping to grow jobs and the more than 646 billion dollar outdoor economy.
  • Public ownership and management of America’s 600 million acres of public lands and forests that for generations have been the inherited legacy of all Americans must be protected and preserved so that they can provide essential habitat systems for wildlife, provide public access for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation, and support the economy by generating billions of dollars and millions of jobs.
  • Development activities on public lands, particularly for energy purposes, must be carefully managed to protect the most fragile and important conservation areas.
  • Wildlife is not livestock and must be managed by wildlife professionals and held in public trust for all Americans
  • National protections and investments must be ensured and enhanced for the nation’s lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and coastal and marine waters for fish, wildlife, and human communities, particularly for fragile and minimally protected water resources, as well as America’s great water treasures such as the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River, and Delaware River.
  • Conservation on private land and working landscapes (such as agricultural lands) plays an essential role in supporting healthy fish and wildlife populations and providing and connecting their habitat.
  • Climate change is real, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced, and wildlife habitat and communities must be managed to be more resilient to the changes already taking place.
  • The Administration must embrace the economic growth and public benefits of moving the nation to cleaner energy sources and investments in energy efficiency.
  • The Administration must respect the intent and authorities of keystone environmental protection laws such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Antiquities Act, and others that have served as global models for protecting people, communities and wildlife.

America needs an EPA Administrator who respects sound science, protects America’s outdoor heritage, and will uphold our bedrock conservation protections, and puts the interests of all Americans above special interests.  We’ll keep encouraging the Senate to raise tough questions to ensure that EPA will continue to fulfill its mission of protecting public health and the environment—and we’ll be listening for clear answers, because America’s public health and natural resources are depending upon it.