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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Jane Mayer, The New Yorker: Scott Pruitt, Trump’s Industry Pick for the E.P.A.
by Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, December 7, 2016
Garvin Isaacs, the president of the Oklahoma Bar Association, isn’t one for understatement, but he topped himself in his reaction to the news that Donald Trump is expected to nominate Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, to run the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s the worst thing in the history of our environment!” Isaacs exclaimed when I spoke to him . “We are in danger. The whole country is in danger. Our kids are in danger. People have got to do something about the Citizens United decision that is turning our country into an oligarchy, run by oil-and-gas interests,” he said.
Isaacs is a colorful and respected local litigator who has long been a thorn in the side of Oklahoma’s powerful. He claims the fossil-fuel industry “owns the whole darn state.” But his worries at the state level are now national. By choosing Pruitt, Isaacs said, Trump has outsourced his environmental policy to the Republican Party’s most powerful private donors—the oil-and-gas magnates who have funded Pruitt’s campaigns in Oklahoma.
Until now, Pruitt’s greatest claim to national fame was his star role in a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Times, in 2014. The investigation revealed that a letter Pruitt sent to the E.P.A in 2011, complaining about federal regulators’ estimation of the air pollution caused by drilling in Oklahoma, was actually written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of the state’s biggest oil-and-gas companies. (“Outstanding!” the company’s director of government relations wrote in a note to Pruitt’s office.) The Times found that Pruitt had sent similar letters, drafted by energy-industry lobbyists, to the Department of the Interior, the Office of Management and Budget, and President Obama. Pruitt has also taken a lead role in coördinating a twenty-eight-state legal challenge to the Obama Administration’s regulations on fossil-fuel pollution, which are at the center of its larger effort to stem climate change.
In taking these anti-regulatory positions, Pruitt has clearly aligned himself with his right-wing campaign donors, including Charles and David Koch. KochPAC, the political-action committee of the brothers’ Kansas-based oil-and-chemical conglomerate, Koch Industries, contributed to Pruitt’s campaigns in 2010, 2013, and 2014. Pruitt has also been backed by several other billionaire oil-and-gas executives, who joined political forces with the Kochs during the Obama years, becoming “investors,” as they called themselves, in the Kochs’ anti-regulatory, pro-business political movement. Harold Hamm, the billionaire founder and chief executive of Continental Resources, and Larry Nichols, the chairman emeritus of Devon Energy, have both supported Pruitt. Hamm, in fact, was the co-chairman of Pruitt’s 2013 reëlection campaign. This year, Hamm became an early and ardent Trump supporter and adviser on energy matters. In September, Politico reported that Nichols had become a close adviser to Trump on energy, too. It’s not clear that Pruitt will continue to take dictation from his fossil-fuel backers, but they almost certainly will have a lot more to thank him for if he enters the Trump Administration.
During the Presidential campaign, Trump signalled his support for the fossil-fuel industry and his lack of concern about climate change, which he called “a hoax.” He also echoed the industry’s calls to dismantle the E.P.A. In that sense, Trump’s nomination of Pruitt would not be unexpected. But it is deeply inconsistent with his populist rhetoric during the campaign. Trump mocked billionaire Republican political donors, including the Koch brothers. Steve Bannon, his campaign manager and now his chief strategist, derided the “donor class,” which he said had sold out ordinary voters, while Trump promised to take on corrupt special interests in Washington, and, as he put it, “drain the swamp.” With the choice of Pruitt, though, Trump appears to have once again chosen the plutocrats over the populists.