With President Donald Trump’s administration set to make dramatic and devastating cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and further cutback federal environmental regulations, the agency’s newly confirmed administrator Scott Pruitt shrugs off concerns about the millions of Americans who will likely become sick as a result. He also ignores the risk that thousands of Americans may die as a result of the administration’s actions, which he fervently supports.
An executive order aimed at dismantling the EPA’s Clean Power Plan was signed by Trump on March 28. Pruitt, as Oklahoma attorney general, sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan because he considered it “overreach” for the federal government to impose limits on carbon pollution from coal and gas power power plants. But President Barack Obama’s administration claimed by 2030 there would be “90,000 fewer asthma attacks a year, 300,000 fewer missed work and school days, and 3,600 fewer premature deaths a year.” The plan would be good for public health.
On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked Pruitt how the EPA would prevent “terrible things,” like premature deaths, without the Clean Power Plan.
“What’s important this past week is to recognize that the president is keeping his promise to the American people to rollback regulatory overreaches that have been occurring the last couple of years,” Pruitt declared.
After Pruitt justified his talking point, Wallace replied, “But, sir, you’re giving me a regulatory answer, a political answer. You’re not giving me a health answer.”
Pruitt maintained the United States is at “pre-1994 levels” when it comes to the country’s carbon dioxide footprint. So, essentially, there is no reason to panic over children getting sick with asthma or the elderly dying prematurely because of pollutants belched out into the air by dirty coal or gas plants.
In 2013, a report put together by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) found energy-saving technologies along with a greater embrace of renewable energy caused carbon dioxide emissions to fall 13 percent over the past five years. That brought emissions to their lowest levels since 1994.
Pruitt may not be aware of the fact that this talking point has its origins with a group comprised of companies and trade associations, which favors the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate change agreement.
On October 5, 2016, BCSE President Lisa Jacobsen declared, “The achievement of the Paris Agreement’s rapid entry into force speaks to the global community’s understanding of the urgent need to take action on climate change. That sense of urgency is echoed in a recent open letter by 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences that draws attention to the serious risks of climate change.”
BCSE advocates for clean natural gas innovation and their advocacy largely overlooks the impact of natural gas emissions on the environment, especially through methane emissions. Nonetheless, BCSE does not manipulate statistics to downplay the threat of climate change, like Pruitt.
Pruitt could care less about the tipping points, which have occurred since this report in 2013. The melting of Arctic summer ice, Greenland’s ice loss, the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, the warming and acidification of oceans that will likely cause mass extinction of species, the remarkable shifts in the jet stream, to name a few, are apparently of little significance. Pruitt is focused on peddling his states’ rights ideology to aid and abet the agendas of dirty energy executives.
On CNBC, Pruitt was asked, “Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?” He said, “No, I would not agree that it’s the primary contributor to the global warming that we’re seeing.”
This is not some belief up for debate, like whether one thinks God exists or not. In fact, as of April 4, the EPA’s own website states, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change,” which is true and will remain true, even if Pruitt decides to expunge this fact from the regulatory agency’s website.
Nevertheless, Pruitt concedes the Earth is warming but insists in his role as one of the chief merchants of doubt that how much humans contribute to climate change remains a subject of debate.
The notion that there is “disagreement” over how humans contribute to climate change is an argument pushed by those who deny the threat of climate change is real. For example, the Heartland Institute recently sent out 200,000 copies of its book, “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” to science teachers at primary and secondary schools. The institute believes “strong empirical evidence” that “human CO2 emissions are going to cause dangerous global warming” is missing. It pushes the false idea that there is no consensus on the impact that human activities are having on the Earth’s climate.
The Heartland Institute receives funding from the Koch Family Foundations and is a part of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which develops model legislation to protect the interests of free market ideologues. The institute is committed to polluting political debates with climate-denying emissions that serve the interests of fossil fuel companies by promoting crackpot science that can be used to justify inaction on climate change.
The same goes for Pruitt. His role is to pollute the airwaves and public policy to justify inaction and deference to states, which may be ill-equipped to deal with air pollution especially if states bordering them do not take curbing emissions seriously.
In 2015, Professor John Shepherd wrote, “It’s still not easy to determine exactly how much climate change has been due to human activities and how much is natural. However, clever statistical attribution studies have analyzed the “fingerprints” of various processes that may contribute – and these now unambiguously give the answer “most of it”. That’s a sufficient basis for taking action, and getting a more accurate answer would not change the outcome significantly.”
It may not change the outcome significantly if the EPA waited for scientists to complete more studies before taking decisive action, however, it would mean corporations could keep ignoring their impact on the climate while maximizing their bottom lines.
Pruitt plans to oversee a complete dismembering of the agency. An EPA budget proposal from March 21 shows $19.4 million of climate change research conducted as part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program will be cut. Funding for research at universities will be cut by $10.6 million. The Climate Protection Program, which is a $69.7 million initiative, will be eliminated, according to E&E News.
E&E News additionally reported, “EPA would eliminate $7.2 million and 11 FTE [staff positions] for environmental education, and $1.8 million and 12 FTE for the Office of Public Engagement. EPA would also cut $2 million and 40 FTE for environmental justice.”
Funds will be nixed for lawyers working to ensure there are climate standards for power plants.
Oklahoma has suffered hundreds of earthquakes as a result of the wastewater disposal process tied to natural gas fracking. Pruitt did next to nothing for Oklahoma residents. He was focused on on his alliance with energy producers and their efforts to challenge Obama administration regulations.
The state—along with Kansas and Texas—is also responsible for contributing to a quarter of all methane emissions in the country. The fossil fuel industry and livestock are responsible.
In Bokoshe, Oklahoma, InsideClimate News reported “a small, low-income town near the Arkansas border,” has high asthma and cancer rates that are believed to come from a coal ash dump from a power plant, which looms over residents.
As the former head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, put it, Pruitt is possibly the first EPA administrator who has “no commitment to the mission of the agency.” That lack of commitment will mean increased rates of sickness and terrible stories of death.