Pruitt Comes to Town

December 14, 2016

It’s been a frightful cacophony. The mournful lamentations, the rending of robes, the wailing and keening over the nomination of Attorney General Scott Pruitt have echoed throughout the Acela corridor.

“This can’t be happening!”  “This” being the election. Now Armageddon is at hand, we’re warned, if this climate change apostate, this unrepentant EPA critic is confirmed to run the agency. The noisy apoplexy isn’t surprising. For the environmental left, climate change is less science than religion. And now an unbeliever will rule in the temple of the faithful.

A less hysterical and more plausible reaction would see Pruitt’s nomination as not about weakening legitimate environmental protections but about curbing EPA’s rogue means of securing them. Whatever his personal views, Pruitt sued EPA not over the veracity of climate change science but over EPA’s unlawful usurpation of Oklahoma’s authority. Nor is he some outlier: attorneys general from more than half the states have joined him in challenging EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

His doubts about the legal issue are also echoed in Congress. Ignoring that institution to push out a climate plan based on questionable authority — one that promises much economic cost and little climate improvement — now seems foolish. Certainly, nothing in the shocking election results suggests Pruitt is out of step with American voters. We know who was out of step with them. Instead, Pruitt’s sin is to believe climate science isn’t settled and urges more public debate. His detractors want to stifle it. Stifling debate is what was once called “un-American”.

Maybe the ultimate objective here isn’t to “roll back” environmental protections. It’s to “reset” the impetus behind them. After all, this is a man who believes “the EPA can serve – and has served, historically – a very valuable purpose.” This is the “existential threat to the planet” predicted by the Sierra Club?

The irony in EPA’s current predicament is that it has authored its own undoing. Had the agency not defied the states, the Congress and the voters, it might not be feeling the chill Oklahoma wind now sweeping down the plain.