On Friday afternoon the Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Liberals, as they have been for much of Donald Trump’s presidency, were both shocked and despondent.
Shocked that Pruitt, a man who sued the EPA more than a dozen times during the Obama administration, could be the right choice to lead the agency. And despondent that Pruitt poses, in the words of former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer, “an existential threat to the planet.”
Neither of these critiques are reasonable. As David French observes in the National Review, “these critics are wrongly equating the agency’s very mission with the progressive policies they favor.”
The EPA’s mission, according to its website is to “protect human health and the environment — air, water and land. EPA, state, local and tribal agencies work together to ensure compliance with environmental laws passed by Congress, state legislatures and tribal governments.” Liberals want to focus on the “what” of the first sentence while completely ignoring the “how” in the second. As Oren Cass writes for US News:
In recent years, the EPA has fundamentally misunderstood its role. Under President Barack Obama, it saw itself as protector of the nation’s environment, which is not quite correct. Yes, the EPA is responsible for environmental protection – its name says so. But, more specifically, it is responsible for enforcing the nation’s environmental laws. …
To enforce those laws, the EPA must accept the tradeoffs that Congress chose to make. It cannot simply identify a source of pollution and try to regulate it. It must first ask whether Congress has given it authority to address that type of pollution from that type of source, what types of regulations it is allowed to use, and how it should weigh the costs and benefits of taking action.
Pruitt himself recognizes that the EPA plays an important role, and at times has even pushed back against conservatives who conflate agency overreach with
“May I say this to you and please hear my heart on this,” Pruitt said. “The EPA, we fight them tooth and nail — OK you know that, I’ve shared those things with you. There are issues with respect to clean water and air that cross state lines. There is a role, and I think it’s important for conservatives, for us to recognize…”
He continued with an example, “We have air issues across state issues that do affect, I mean, just think about it, you have a power plant in Arkansas that’s burning coal irresponsibly or inconsistent with the statue, and it comes over to Oklahoma and Texas. So there is a role for the EPA, it’s just that they assert themselves in ways that are above that role.”
Liberals automatically assume that all of that mumbo jumbo about “checks and balances” and “administering the law” is code for being a climate change denialist who will favor business over the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout Pruitt’s lengthy grilling on Capitol Hill he made clear that his mission is not to dismantle the EPA, but instead to stop wasting time on political turf battles and refocus on keeping our air and water clean and safe. Kimberly Strassel relates Pruitt’s answers in interview with the Wall Street Journal:
“We’ve made extraordinary progress on the environment over the decades, and that’s something we should celebrate,” he says. “But there is real work to be done.” What kind of work? Hitting air-quality targets, for one: “Under current measurements, some 40% of the country is still in nonattainment.” There’s also toxic waste to clean up: “We’ve got 1,300 Superfund sites and some of them have been on the list for more than three decades.”
Such work is where Washington can make a real difference. “These are issues that go directly to the health of our citizens that should be the absolute focus of this agency,” Mr. Pruitt says. “This president is a fixer, he’s an action-oriented leader, and a refocused EPA is in a great position to get results.”
This is not to say that Secretary Pruitt and the environmental community will see eye-to-eye. Most decidedly they won’t on many issues. But that’s because liberals have come to assume that the EPA sets and enforces its own agenda while Pruitt believes it should purely execute the law. If liberals are upset about that, their target should be Congress and their recourse is the democratic process.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore. See more HERE