Pruitt Addresses EPA Staff, Talks Energy and Regulation

By Yessenia Funes Feb 21, 2017

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt addressed his staff today (February 21) for the first time to lay out his vision and priorities for the agency. He was confirmed February 17 amidst heavy opposition from Senate Democrats.

Pruitt is former attorney general of Oklahoma, where he filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the EPA. Pruitt avoided mentioning any of those during the address. He also made no mention of the emails between himself and fossil fuel companies, correspondence he is supposed to release to the Center for Media and Democracy today. He didn’t name climate change, either—an issue which he views with deep skepticism.

Pruitt did lay out directives for the agency moving forward. “This is a beginning,” he said. “It’s a beginning for us to spend time and discuss certain principles by which I think this agency should conduct itself.”

While some of these included basic office etiquette like listening, problem solving and exhibiting teamwork and civility, here are other principles that were more in tune with what Pruitt’s pro-fossil fuel and anti-regulatory record has shown.

On regulation:
Though Pruitt wasn’t explicit, he did imply that agency regulations shouldn’t inconvenience those they regulate, i.e., power plants, fossil fuel companies, polluters, states, tribes, etc.

In his own words: “Regulations ought to make things regular. Regulators exist to give certainty to those that they regulate. Those that we regulate ought to know what’s expected of them so that they can plan and allocate resources to comply. That’s really the job of a regulator.”

The EPA’s website, however, offers another reason for developing and enforcing regulations: “To protect human health and the environment.”

On rule of law:
Pruitt denounced the way federal agencies abuse their power. “The only authority that any agency has in the executive branch is the authority given to it by Congress,” he says. He calls on the EPA to respect what Congress says it can and cannot do to “avoid litigation… avoid the uncertainty of litigation, and…reach better ends and outcomes.” 

Pruitt has attempted to challenge the agency’s power himself through at least 14 lawsuits filed against the EPA between 2014 and 2016, in which he or his affiliated political action committees are listed as plaintiffs. A common pattern among them is claiming that the EPA doesn’t have the “authority” to implement the regulations or rules the litigations contest.

On energy:
The administrator made clear that the EPA will follow a “pro-energy” strategy while remaining “pro-environment.” He said that the agency doesn’t have to choose between the two, but science (from the EPA) does show that energy sectors like the oil and gas industry harm the environment through carbon and methane emissions, as well as through stream and air pollution.

Pruitt wants the agency to value economic growth and jobs, which is likely a nod to the declining coal industry. Employment in coalmines decreased by 12 percent in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Renewables, on the other hand, have seen a rise even amid a generally weakened energy industry.

Watch the administrator address his staff above or on C-Span here.