Pruitt Effective at Grifting. At Deregulating? So far, Not so Much

April 8, 2018

EPA Director Scott Pruitt’s penchant for bullet proof desks, sound proof booths, and first class flights are drawing a lot of fire.
Trumpians accept the fiscal and moral rot because they are sure, absolutely sure, and delighted, that Pruitt is enacting an agenda to create thousands more Flints, poison as many rivers, and children, as possible, fry the planet, and above all, make, in the imagination of the Fox-addled set,  liberal snowflakes cry.
More evidence of the fundamental misunderstanding of government and separation of powers that authoritarian Putinistas have.
EPA regulations are typically grounded in decades of precedent and case law, and crafted to survive legal and administrative challenges and attacks. Simply saying you are going to sweep them away only works if you believe, as Trump and his followers do, that he is some kind of Louis the 14th, (or Vladimir Putin) potentate.

As one example, the much ballyhooed “withdrawal” from the Paris agreement can not take effect for another 3 years. Meanwhile, the US is, officially, still a party to that.

Above, former EPA Director Gina McCarthy describes the reality above, at 1:20 if you are in a hurry.

UPDATE: New York Times:

But legal experts and White House officials say that in Mr. Pruitt’s haste to undo government rules and in his eagerness to hold high-profile political events promoting his agenda, he has often been less than rigorous in following important procedures, leading to poorly crafted legal efforts that risk being struck down in court.

The result, they say, is that the rollbacks, intended to fulfill one of the president’s central campaign pledges, may ultimately be undercut or reversed.

“In their rush to get things done, they’re failing to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. And they’re starting to stumble over a lot of trip wires,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. “They’re producing a lot of short, poorly crafted rulemakings that are not likely to hold up in court.”

Six of Mr. Pruitt’s efforts to delay or roll back Obama-era regulations — on issues including pesticides, lead paint and renewable-fuel requirements — have been struck down by the courts. Mr. Pruitt also backed down on a proposal to delay implementing smog regulations and another to withdraw a regulation on mercury pollution.

The courts, for instance, found that the E.P.A. had ignored clear legal statutes when they ruled that Mr. Pruitt had illegally delayed a regulation curbing methane emissions from new oil and gas wells and that the agency had broken the law by missing a deadline last year to enact ozone restrictions.

New Republic:

At the moment, most of Pruitt’s actions are in the proposal stage, and many are years away from being finalized. Several have been halted or overturned by the courts. Pruitt’s legal skills and persistence should not be underestimated, though: As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he made his reputation by suing President Barack Obama’s EPA more than a dozen times. But so far, Pruitt’s biggest achievement is that he appears successful. That explains his good standing with Trump, who values appearances more than anything else.

Last June, in the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced that he would fulfill one of his main campaign promises: withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Before that day, it was unclear if Trump would really do it; many in his inner circle opposed the idea. Ultimately, however, it was Pruitt who convinced Trump to follow through. Pruitt’s most high-profile moment as EPA administrator thus came as he stood in front of dozens of news cameras that day, with Trump standing behind him. “Other nations talk a good game,” Pruitt said. “We lead with action, not words.”

And yet, nearly a year after that press conference, the U.S. is still part of the Paris agreement—and, according to its terms, can’t leave until at least November 5, 2020. Withdrawal from the accord, at this point, is merely a rhetorical win—but Pruitt’s allies claim this proves his effectiveness. The Hillcolumn defending Pruitt on Thursday said Trump has already “drained the swamp” with “decisions like the one he made to remove the United States from the unfair and ineffective Paris climate accord.” The Federalist article also noted that Pruitt “shepherded the U.S. departure from the uneven and horribly negotiated Paris climate accord.”

Other high-profile Pruitt actions include his repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but that regulation was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 and is still winding its way through the courts. So the CPP was never implemented. And in order to legally repeal it, Pruitt must create another greenhouse gas regulation to replace it—a process that is underway but that will take years and inevitably face its own legal challenges.

At least ten of Pruitt’s intended regulatory rollbacks, in fact, are on hold due to lawsuits, according to the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, a group run out of New York University Law School. “Most of Pruitt’s actions can be categorized as hastily reversing course on regulations/rules—without properly showing why and properly seeking public input—or flat out ignoring the law,” the group’s communication director Chris Moyer wrote in an email. “Neither count as accomplishments or successes, especially since Pruitt’s actions have led to challenges in court that remain in limbo.”


It’s not for lack of trying. Pruitt has taken aim at just about every major Obama-era EPA rule, which has made him a pariah on the left, a hero on the right and the bureaucratic face of Trump’s vocal advocacy for fossil-fuel interests and other industrial polluters. But so far he’s only managed to delay a few rules that hadn’t yet taken effect. His supporters, critics and boss have all promoted the perception that he’s repealed Obama’s environmental legacy and shredded America’s environmental rulebook—and no one has promoted that perception more energetically than Pruitt, who frequently sued Obama’s EPA when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. Nevertheless, that perception is wrong.

Pruitt’s problem is that major federal regulations are extremely difficult and time-consuming to enact, and just as difficult and time-consuming to reverse. The rulemaking process can take years of technical and administrative work that Pruitt and his team have not yet had time to do. And even if Pruitt manages to keep his job long enough to complete that process for any of his efforts to weaken clean-air and clean-water rules, the EPA will inevitably face years of litigation over each one. The old saying that it’s easier to tear down a barn than to build one does not really apply to rules limiting pollutants like ozone, coal ash, mercury and methane.

“The regulatory apparatus is like a super-tanker; it can take a long time to turn around,” said Washington appellate lawyer David Rivkin, who represented Pruitt in several of Oklahoma’s challenges to Obama-era EPA rules. “If you want durable results, you can’t be sloppy or rushed.”

In Washington, Pruitt and his aggressive press shop have cultivated his reputation for relentlessness and effectiveness, portraying him as a man on a mission who knows how to get things done. And despite all the bad press over his ethical woes, his defenders and haters almost always describe him as successful. GQ grudgingly noted that “in a Cabinet that doesn’t get much done, Pruitt has been dangerously effective,” while the friendly Wall Street Journal editorial page gushed that “if there has been a more consequential Cabinet official, we haven’t seen him.”

It’s true that Pruitt has had some success transforming how the EPA pursues its mission, communicates with the public and enforces its rules. He has used his discretionary powers to give factories more deference when they apply for permits, states more control of their air quality compliance and industry-friendly officials more sway on EPA’s science advisory boards. He’s sent a clear message throughout the agency to be more accommodating to businesses, a message that has helped persuade hundreds of its career public servants to retire. And he has abruptly halted the EPA’s focus on combating climate change, its top priority in the Obama years. He was the leading internal advocate for Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, although the withdrawal won’t take effect until November 2020, so it probably won’t stick if Trump doesn’t get reelected.

So far, though, Pruitt has yet to create new regulations that would outlast his tenure or Trump’s, or to rescind any of the regulations Obama created. He’s only been able to delay a few that were already on hold before he took office because they were mired in litigation—most notably Obama’s rules protecting wetlands from development and limiting carbon emissions from power plants. He’s vowed to repeal and replace them both, but he’s barely begun those processes. He’s also managed to block a few Obama proposals that had not yet taken effect—like a ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the EPA had found posed a risk to fetal brain development, and a rule requiring sewage plants to reduce toxic emissions.


This does not mean there is no reason for outrage or concern.  As long as Trump can appoint toxic judges and Ryan Zinke can give public lands away to oil and mining interests, the planet is under attack.

But it does mean that at least much of the machinery of environmental protection is still in place, for now – and will still be available, if we can overthrow the current oligarch overreach before its too late.

8 Responses to “Pruitt Effective at Grifting. At Deregulating? So far, Not so Much”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Adolf Hitler never got the absolute majority. Same as your Tramp never got the popular majority. When first elected into power, Hitler got about the same percentage of votes as your Tramp is getting public support now. Nonetheless and after more than three years in power, Hitler started destroying Europe. Maybe you should consider what government tyranny means before it’s too late.

  2. indy222 Says:

    We’re still a party to the Paris Accords, officially, for now? Great! Super! Now, what does that mean, given that there are no sanctions, no teeth, and nothing but rhetoric and a (crossed fingers behind back) promise to try, to hold to 2C at some indefinite time in the future? It’s meaningless, either way. Stop pretending this Emperor has any clothes. When the kind-hearted and tolerant and turn-the-other-cheek Neville Chamberlains that the Progressives have become, finally see what is already hidden in plain sight in the peer-reviewed journals of the PNAS, JAMS, Nature, and the rest… then it’s possible we’ll see civil war between the Trumpsters who foam at the mouth at the thought of the liberals, after the gall of electing a black president, and the maturing youth who know they’ve been abandoned, sacrificed, and being left a crippled planet by both sides of this tragedy.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    Climate Change in the American Mind: October 2017

    This report documents an upward trend in Americans’ concern about global warming, as reflected in several key indicators tracked since 2008, including substantial increases in Americans’ certainty that global warming is happening and harming people in the United States now. The percentage of Americans that are very worried about global warming has more than doubled since its lowest point in 2011. Increasing numbers of Americans say they have personally experienced global warming and that the issue is personally important to them.

    Seven in ten Americans (71%) think global warming is happening, an increase of eight percentage points since March 2015. Only about one in eight Americans (13%) think global warming is not happening. Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by more than 5 to 1.

    Over half of Americans (54%) understand that global warming is mostly human-caused. By contrast, one in three (33%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.

    Only about one in seven Americans (15%) understand that nearly all climate scientists (more than 90%) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening.

    More than six in ten Americans (63%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. About one in five (22%) are “very worried” about it – the highest levels since our surveys began, and twice the proportion that were “very worried” in March 2015.

    Two in three Americans feel “interested” in global warming (67%), and more than half feel “disgusted” (55%) or “helpless” (52%). Fewer than half feel “hopeful” (44%).

    Nearly two in three Americans (64%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and one in three think weather is being affected “a lot” (33%), an increase of 8 percentage points since May 2017.

    A majority of Americans think global warming made several extreme events in 2017 worse, including the heat waves in California (55%) and Arizona (51%), hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria (54%), and wildfires in the western U.S. (52%).

    More than three in four Americans (78%) are interested in learning about how global warming is or is not affecting extreme weather events.

    More than four in ten Americans (44%) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, an increase of 13 percentage points since March 2015.

    Four in ten Americans (42%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now.” The proportion that believes people are being harmed “right now” has increased by 10 percentage points since March 2015.

    Half of Americans think they (50%) or their family (54%) will be harmed by global warming. Even more think global warming will harm people in the U.S. (67%), the world’s poor or people in developing countries (both 71%), future generations of people (75%) or plant and animal species (75%).

    Most Americans think global warming will have future impacts, causing more melting glaciers (67%), severe heat waves (64%), droughts and water shortages (63%), floods (61%), and other impacts over the next 20 years.

    Two in three Americans (67%) say the issue of global warming is either “extremely” (12%), “very” (19%), or “somewhat” (37%) important to them personally, while one in three (33%) say it is either “not too” (19%) or “not at all” (14%) important personally. The proportion that say it is personally important has increased by 11 percentage points since March 2015.

    Do you feel that the current government is representing the will of the people?

  4. I find amazing (and heartening) that Congress and the President didn’t just pass a law to exclude GHG from the Clean Air Act. That could have really mucked things up. All Pruitt is doing is playing a delaying game. And frankly, that’s all he could be expected to do under the circumstances.

  5. Republicans hate Big Governement. They want to discredit it with al means. They wont fire Pruitt for wasting money on his self. He does what he is supose to do. Make sure that big business has no regulations that cost them money. Profit is our God andArepublicans are our prophets.

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