Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) critic who recently took over the agency as part of the Trump administration, gave his first address in his new position Tuesday.
The former Oklahoma Attorney General mentioned “important, monumental issues with respect to our future and our environment,” but avoided a number of issues central to the EPA’s mission — such as air and water protection, cleanups, public health, and environmental monitoring.
Pruitt, who sued the EPA 14 times in his previous role to fight regulations and cleanup efforts, instead emphasised “abuses” of the agency’s rule-making powers.
He called on employees to take a stricter, more limited interpretation of the agency’s powers.
“The process we engage in adopting regulations is important, because it shows we take our role seriously,” he said, returning to a theme he emphasised during his confirmation hearings.
“Regulations ought to make things regular … that’s the job of a regulator,” Pruitt said.
This is the same phrase Pruitt used during his confirmation hearings, during which he suggested that the EPA had failed in its responsibility to create a predictable economic climate for business.
Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal wrote Friday that Pruitt’s passion seems to be neither environmental safety nor deregulation. Rather, she suggested, he seems like a kind of “EPA originalist,” who aims to link the EPA to the tightest possible interpretation of its several congressional mandates.
Pruitt has become the nation’s top environmental officer without staking out a clear position on several key environmental issues — including whether greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide should be regulated as pollutants. Nothing in Tuesday’s talk cleared up any of his environmental views.
The transition at the EPA before Pruitt’s arrival was particularly fraught, with reports of leaks, gag orders, and grant freezes creating uncertainty for people who follow environmental policy or rely on on the EPA for funding.
Pruitt’s confirmation was particularly contentious. There were questions about his truth-telling during his hearings and Senate Democrats fought until the last minute to delay a vote until undisclosed emails between Pruitt’s Oklahoma office and fossil fuel companies were released by court order.
In what may have been a nod to some of those issues, Pruitt told his new workforce on Tuesday to wait on the “rest of the story” about him, beyond what they might have seen in the press.
He also decried the “toxic environment” in American politics and called for “civility.”
“I seek to be a good listener,” he said, “You can’t lead unless you listen.”
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