8:25 a.m. EST December 8, 2016
Washington — Environmentalists are decrying President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of a climate-change skeptic to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency amid an intensifying debate over federal auto pollution rules.
Trump on Thursday tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has sued the EPA over climate regulations and has said the climate debate is “far from settled.”
In a May 2016 op-ed in the National Review that he co-authored with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, Pruitt wrote: “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Pruitt’s stance on climate change and record of being hostile to climate-friendly regulations like the gas-mileage rules make him unfit to lead the agency that is charged with protecting the nation’s environment.
“Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires,” Brune said in a statement. “He is a climate science denier who, as attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, regularly conspired with the fossil fuel industry to attack EPA protections.”
Trump said Thursday Pruitt is a “highly respected Attorney General from the state of Oklahoma” who “will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”
Pruit added: “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, confirmed the choice of Pruitt on Wednesday evening while dismissing his critics.
“We’re very accustomed to the naysayers and the critics,” she told reporters at Trump Tower in New York City. “Attorney General Pruitt has great qualifications and a good record as AG of Oklahoma and there were a number of qualified candidates for that particular position that the president-elect interviewed. We look forward to the confirmation hearings.”
Trump’s decision to tap Pruitt to lead the EPA comes as the agency is moving to finalize new greenhouse gas emission rules while the agency is still under President Barack Obama’s control that will require automakers to produce car and truck fleets averaging more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, over the objection of car manufacturers. Those rules originally were subject to review in 2018.
Trump made little mention of the new emission standards during his campaign, but he has complained at length about the amount of regulations that have been proposed by the Obama administration. His anti-regulatory stance has given automakers hope they will have a more friendly audience after Trump takes office in January.
The mpg rules at issue began to take effect with the 2017 model year. They call for ramping up from the current fleet-wide average of about 34 miles per gallon for cars and trucks that were required in 2016 to an eventual goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
The increase, which some automakers have said might be too ambitious, starts with a rise to an average of more than 35 miles per gallon for the 2017 models that already are being rolled out.
Automakers have been pushing Trump to roll back the fuel-efficiency mandates after he takes office in January.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which lobbies for U.S. automakers, said Wednesday that Pruitt is “a terrific public servant, a great listener and a principled leader.”
The auto alliance represents Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, BMW Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Car USA. The group has said the EPA has “unnecessarily politicized” the mid-term review of the emission standards by moving to finalize the regulations ahead of the originally scheduled April 2018 time frame.
The auto alliance pushed unsuccessfully this week to convince lawmakers to add language to block the EPA’s effort to finalize the mpg rules before Trump takes office to a must-pass bill that will fund the federal government’s operations past Friday. A draft of the funding resolution that was released Tuesday evening makes no mention of the mpg rules.
The Association of Global Automakers, which is separate from the Auto Alliance and represents international automobile manufacturers, also called Wednesday for the EPA to reverse course on its push to quickly finalize the mileage rules.
John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Global Automakers, said in a statement the EPA should “at the very least” extend the comment period on the mpg ruling beyond the Dec. 30 deadline that is currently set for industry groups to weigh in.
“The hasty decision to accelerate the EPA process, taken in the waning days of an Administration, raises serious concerns about the objectivity and factual foundation of their action,” Bozzella said.
Democrats in Congress also railed against Trump’s choice of Pruitt to lead the EPA on Wednesday.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said: “Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing our country and the world today, and we must take it seriously and take action to address it. President-elect Trump promised to break the special interests’ grip on Washington, but his nomination of Mr. Pruitt — who has a troubling history of advocating on behalf of big oil at the expense of public health — only tightens it. I expect he will have to answer many tough questions throughout the nomination process to address these significant concerns.”
Pruitt was one of the state attorneys general who sued Volkswagen over its decision to rig hundreds of thousands of cars to cheat federal emission standards earlier this year. The decision to go after VW has won Pruitt few friends in the environmental community, however.
“Scott Pruitt has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection,” Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp said in a statement. “Our country needs — and deserves — an EPA administrator who is guided by science, who respects America’s environmental laws, and who values protecting the health and safety of all Americans ahead of the lobbying agenda of special interests.”
Representing his state as attorney general since 2011, Pruitt has repeatedly sued the EPA to roll back environmental regulations and public health protections.
He joined with other Republican attorneys general in opposing the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt has argued that curbing carbon emissions would trample the sovereignty of state governments, drive up electricity rates, threaten the reliability of the nation’s power grid and “create economic havoc.”
He also filed court briefs in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline project, blocked by the Obama administration, which runs through his state. Pruitt also sued the EPA over the agency’s recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, which has been opposed by industries that would be forced to clean up contaminated wastewater.
Though Pruitt ran unopposed for a second term in 2014, campaign finance reports show he raised more than $700,000, with many of his top donors hailing from the energy and utility industries.
-Associated Press contributed.