How Much Damage Could Scott Pruitt Really Do At EPA?


Publish Date:
February 8, 2017
  • Temple, James
MIT Technology Review
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The Senate is expected to confirm Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency as early as this week, placing him in charge of a government body that he sued more than a dozen times and that his new boss, President Donald Trump, pledged to scrap.

Public statements and leaked documents indicate that Pruitt and the administration will move to narrow the agency’s authority, slash staff, and stall efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. “We don’t know exactly what Mr. Pruitt will do,” says Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “But certainly his history is one of doubting climate science and pushing the short-term interests of fossil-fuel development.”

The Trump administration has more options for defanging the Clean Power Plan. The most likely scenario is that the EPA could withdraw the regulation and write a new, narrower version of it, says Michael Wara, an associate law professor at Stanford who studies energy and the environment. But that, too, would entail a lengthy public process and almost certain litigation.

There are also more aggressive options that could restrict the broader authority of the EPA, through revised findings at the agency or a congressional amendment to the Clean Air Act, Wara says. The “nuclear option” would be to reopen the EPA’s earlier determination that greenhouse-gas emissions are a pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

“Doing that would be incredibly tough,” Wara says. “They would have to overcome mountains of evidence that greenhouse-gas emissions do in fact cause harm. And in the world of rule-making, facts do matter.”

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