A pattern is emerging in the list of Donald Trump’s picks for cabinet positions. His choice to oversee public schools as head of the Department of Education would like to do away with them. His nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services wants to limit access to health care. To lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he’s tapped someone opposed to the safety-net programs that agency administers. All together, it looks less like an administrative team than a wrecking crew.
Enter Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whom Trump has chosen to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt—who will be the first EPA administrator to question the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change—has spent his five years as the state’s top attorney launching legal attacks against the agency he may soon be in charge of. More egregiously, he’s often done so at the behest of Oklahoma’s powerful oil and gas industry. His selection sends yet another signal that wealthy special interests control the seats at Trump’s governing table.
In 2014, an investigation by The New York Times revealed that Pruitt often acted as a stenographer for energy firms, secretly, via numerous letters sent from his office to the EPA, the Interior Department, and other federal agencies. Though the letters bore Pruitt’s signature, they’d actually been drafted by industry lobbyists. In one, Pruitt complained to the EPA that it was overestimating pollution from natural-gas wells in Oklahoma. That letter had been written by lawyers for one of the state’s biggest oil and gas companies, Devon Energy. “Outstanding!” the company’s lobbying director wrote in response to an e-mail from Pruitt’s office informing him the letter had been sent. “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”
One of Pruitt’s priorities after taking office was to establish a “federalism unit” in the attorney general’s office to fight environmental regulations and other laws, including the Affordable Care Act. He openly called for states to defy the federal government, arguing at one point that “no state should comply with the Clean Power Plan if it means surrendering decision-making authority to the EPA.” He also began to partner with energy companies in filing anti-regulatory lawsuits against the federal government, a practice that marked “a departure from the usual role of the state attorney general, who traditionally sues companies to force compliance with state law,” according to the Times. Pruitt helped to engineer a 28-state legal challenge to President Obama’s rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants, a key piece of the president’s efforts to limit climate change. Meanwhile, he ignored the troubling spread of man-made earthquakes across Oklahoma, caused by the disposal wells used in hydraulic fracking, which can damage property and infrastructure.