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Make America Toxic Again


Rebecca Leber’s superb article about Scott Pruitt’s dismantling of the EPA is essential reading:

It was not quite the fire and brimstone of his boss, but Pruitt’s quieter style masks the extent to which his approach to governing is the practical implementation of the president’s wrecking-ball rhetoric. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “get rid” of the EPA “in almost every form.” In just his first year in office, Pruitt has already made stunning strides in that direction. He’s dismantling the Obama administration’s landmark Clean Power Plan, which imposed greenhouse gas limits on fossil-fuel-fired power plants. He has slashed enforcement efforts against polluters and tried to repeal rules meant to safeguard drinking-water supplies. He has threatened to roll back fuel economy standards. He’s moved to weaken new rules for smog, coal ash, and mercury pollution, poorly enforced a new toxic-chemical law, and refused to ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos. He’s taken aim at dozens of lesser-known rules covering everything from safety requirements for replacing asbestos to emergency response plans in hazardous chemical facilities. In the process, Pruitt has driven away hundreds of experienced EPA staffers and scientists while putting old friends and industry reps in charge of key environmental decisions—a troubling trend that has led former EPA administrators from both parties to warn that he is doing irreversible damage to the agency.

For the president, Pruitt has become a trusted partner. “We’ve been through our battles, Scott,” Trump said a few weeks after sharing his Rose Garden podium with Pruitt as they announced plans to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement. “Not with each other, with the world.”

Thanks to his habit of tenting his fingers, Pruitt has prompted comparisons to C. Montgomery Burns, the villainous nuclear power plant owner in The Simpsons. And indeed, Pruitt has been almost cartoonishly contemptuous of the EPA’s work, pushing draconian cuts to the agency’s science, climate, regulatory, and enforcement offices. Meanwhile, in just his first year, he has reportedly expanded his around-the-clock security detail at a cost of at least $2 million annually. He spent $25,000 on a secure phone booth inside his office, at least $12,000 for flights around the country between March and May (each of which included a leg in Tulsa), $58,000 on chartered and military flights over the summer, and nearly $40,000 on a trip to Morocco to promote natural gas exports. His frequent first-class trips with his security detail have added more than $200,000 to that tally. He also issued a $120,000 no-bid contract to a Republican opposition research firm to target and track journalists, though the contract was canceled after I exposed it.

Indeed, one could even argue that the effects of these major changes in environmental regulation are a matter of even more urgent public interest than whether one candidate was in full compliance with email server management best practices.

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