On December 7, Donald Trump's transition team told reporters that Edward Scott Pruitt, the Republican Attorney General of Oklahoma, would be his nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Before taking on his current role, Pruitt, 48, served in the state senate from 1998 to 2006. He ran unsuccessfully for Oklahoma's 1st district House seat in a 2001 special election and for the lieutenant governor nomination – also unsuccessfully – in 2006. He managed a minor league baseball team beginning in 2004.
His break came in 2010, when he was elected Oklahoma attorney general and opened a "federalism unit" at the office to sue the Obama administration over its immigration policies, the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank and especially its environmental rules.
Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, by the New York Times' count. He sued to block rules meant to curb regional haze and limit the amount of mercury that power plants can emit. He sued to block the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule.
Reversing the accustomed role of state attorneys general, who often sue companies to enforce laws and regulations, Pruitt invited energy companies and utilities to join his suits against the federal government. According to the Times, in 13 cases against the EPA Pruitt's co-plaintiffs were firms that had given money to his own or affiliated campaigns.
In 2014 the Times reported that Pruitt had copied – with only minute changes – letters drafted by energy lobbyists onto Oklahoma Attorney General's Office stationery and sent them to the EPA. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Pruitt received over $345,000 in donations from individuals, companies and PACs associated with the energy industry between 2002 and 2014.
Pruitt has not only sued to block what he calls the EPA's "coerced conservation"; he has also encouraged noncompliance with the rules of the agency he may soon head. "No state should comply with the Clean Power Plan if it means surrendering decision-making authority to the EPA," he told the Senate in 2015.
Pruitt's long, hostile relationship with the EPA raises questions about what role he believes it should play. A recent National Review editorial urged him to abolish it, based on the author's view that the agency is "relentlessly anti-science, anti-technology, anti-industry" as well as immensely wasteful. Despite what he calls its "out-of-control energy agenda," Trump did not hint at doing away with the EPA in his statement announcing Pruitt's nomination: his pick will "restore the EPA's essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe," Trump said, adding that the incoming administration "strongly believes in environmental protection."
Pruitt himself has acknowledged a role for the EPA, with a number of caveats: "though I don't like the EPA, though I don't like the authority that they're exercising, though I think they are picking winners and losers to try to elevate renewables at the expense of fossil fuels, which I think is wrong as far as their authority is concerned," he said in 2013, “I think it's not good for us to say that the EPA doesn't have any role." He provided the example of a power plant in Arkansas "that's burning coal irresponsibly or inconsistent with the statue, and it comes over to Oklahoma and Texas."
It is notable that he picked an example related to pollution, rather than greenhouse gas emissions, which are the focus of the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt has questioned the science behind human-caused climate change, writing in the National Review in May, "global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind."
The overwhelming majority of scientists have agreed for decades that global warming is occurring. In 2001, 17 national academies of science issued a joint statement addressing doubts about "the need to mitigate the risks posed by global climate change," saying, "We do not consider such doubts justified."