February 20 2017
In a column on the new EPA head, Scott Pruitt, Kimberley Strassel recalls that in the past EPA appointees by Republican presidents have fallen into one of two types--centrists such as Christie Todd Whitman, who could be at home in a Democratic administration, or administrators hostile to the mission of the agency such as Ann Gorsuch (where have I heard that name before?).
The new EPA head doesn't fall into either of these categories:
Scott Pruitt, whom the Senate confirmed Friday, 52-46, doesn’t fit either mold. His focus is neither expanding nor reducing regulation. “There is no reason why EPA’s role should ebb or flow based on a particular administration, or a particular administrator,” he says. “Agencies exist to administer the law. Congress passes statutes, and those statutes are very clear on the job EPA has to do. We’re going to do that job.” You might call him an EPA originalist.
That's not good enough for Democrats. Pruitt's confirmation battle was one of the hardest fought. He was called a "climate denier" and toady for the fossil fuel interests. He was portrayed as the destroyer of the planet. Yet what Pruitt will do, according to Strassel, is obey the law and give the states more authority in environmental issues:
When Mr. Pruitt sat down Thursday for his first interview since his November nomination, he spent most of the time waxing enthusiastic about all the good his agency can accomplish once he refocuses it on its statutorily defined mission: working cooperatively with the states to improve water and air quality.
“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.”
That, he adds, marks a change in direction from his predecessor at the EPA, Gina McCarthy. “This past administration didn’t bother with statutes,” he says. “They displaced Congress, disregarded the law, and in general said they would act in their own way. That now ends.”
Used to governance by power-grabbing bureaucrats, the Democrats will be unhappy with what Strassel calls Pruitt's "back to basics" leadership. He plans to withdraw both the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule (which can be broadly interpreted to mean that the EPA asserts authority over your backyard creek). Pruitt was party to the lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to call into question the legality of those rules. Pruitt will initiate a process to determine if the EPA had the authority to promulgate these rules or whether only Congress could act. Pruitt also believes that the country's water infrastructure should be improved.
But Pruitt faces an uphill battle:
Mr. Pruitt defies the stereotype of the fierce conservative who wants to destroy the agency he runs. Nonetheless, he is likely to encounter considerable hostility. The union that represents the EPA’s 15,000-strong bureaucracy urged its members to besiege their senators with calls this week asking them to reject Mr. Pruitt’s appointment. (The effort didn’t have much effect: The vote was nearly along party lines, with only two Democrats and one Republican breaking ranks.) These bureaucrats have the ability to sabotage his leadership. That’s what happened to Mrs. Gorsuch. She went to war with the bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy won.
With his emphasis on federalism and obeying the law (as opposed to law-making by bureaucrats), Pruitt will become enemy number one for the entrenched bureaucrats of the EPA and for privileged environmentalists who believe that they have a right to see their every whim supported by government.