DELINGPOLE: Scott Pruitt Is Failing to Drain the Swamp at the EPA

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Oklahoma Attorney General and President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on Capitol Hill January 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump’s attempts to drain the swamp are being undermined by one of his key administrators.

Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is more interested in building his political career than he is taking on the Green Blob, insiders report.

Pruitt is also said to be behind attempts to remove at least one of the key phrases from the president’s long-awaited Executive Order on the environment.

It concerns a proposal to repeal the EPA’s Endangerment Finding on CO2 (the disastrous, unscientific, job-killing ruling introduced during the Obama Administration, which rebranded the harmless trace gas Carbon Dioxide as a dangerous substance).

If Pruitt is successful and this clause is removed from the Executive Order it will represent a major setback for President Trump’s war with the Climate Industrial Complex. It may also put into jeopardy the promises Trump made on the campaign trail to scrap “any regulation that is outdated, unnecessary, bad for workers, or contrary to the national interest.”

“This is the president’s one shot at winning this battle,” an ally in the EPA camp warns. “It’s like the French heavy cavalry at Agincourt: lose momentum and he’s going to get stuck in the mud being shot to pieces by the English longbows.”

To understand the background to this story, you need to know who Scott Pruitt is and how he landed such a key job. The dismantling of the EPA, after all, is a core part of Trump’s swamp-draining program — so clearly it mattered greatly that the Administrator’s position should go to a capable, determined figure.

Pruitt, a Republican lawyer, the Attorney General of Oklahoma seemed ideally qualified. One of his biographies describes him as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” It was because of his combative track record — challenging his state’s rights against the federal bureaucracy of the EPA — that he landed the post of EPA Administrator.

Since taking on the position, though, his appetite for doing what he was appointed to do appears to have diminished somewhat. True, his credentials as a climate sceptic are not much in doubt. Yes, he might even agree with President Trump that there’s a swamp out there that sorely needs draining. The problem is, insiders explain, is that the future of the EPA is of far less interest to Pruitt than his prospects of becoming either one of Oklahoma’s next senators or its next governor.

“Pruitt wants to keep himself in the middle of the road so he can get himself elected,” one of my sources explains. “He’s not interested in managing the agency; he’s interested in running for the senate; and though of course he’s committed to the conservative cause, he’s more committed to himself.”

Of a piece with this was his recent spat with Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, over the EPA’s budget allowance.

Pruitt — supposed to be a hawk — protested that he couldn’t accept the proposed 24 percent cut in the EPA’s $8.2 billion budget. A furious Mulvaney responded by increasing the cut to 31 percent.

Incurring Mulvaney’s wrath, my sources tell me, was all part of the plan. “It made Pruitt look like the guy who sticks up for his people. A good look for someone running for senator of Oklahoma.”

Meanwhile, most of the actual running of the EPA has been deputed to Pruitt’s Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson. Like Pruitt, like many in the upper circles of the EPA, Jackson is a member of the Oklahoma political set. He cut his teeth as an aide to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe who, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has long been a scourge of the Climate Industrial Complex. Jackson often tried to warn off Sen. Inhofe from becoming too outspoken on climate change — not out of reasons of principle but purely as a matter of realpolitik. Sen. Inhofe, however, never gave much of a damn about caution: now 82, he has no reason to make friends and influence people by making out nicey-nice on green issues.

Pruitt, on the other hand, has been much more alive to Jackson’s cautions. He got his fingers quite badly burnt after he recently said on  CNBC that he did not consider carbon dioxide to be a major cause of global warming.

At the time, I applauded Pruitt for saying what needed to be said. It was certainly an improvement on his disappointing performance at CPAC a few weeks before when he’d bounded around Tiggerishly repeating his favourite meaningless catchphrase “the future ain’t what it used to be” but proved himself quite incapable of answering a straightforward question about whether he believed in man-made climate change.

But I gather from my sources that there was blowback from the White House (why, it is not clear). This has made Pruitt more determined than ever not to stick his head above the parapet by doing anything that would make him even more unpopular than he is already with the Green Blob and its many fellow travellers in the squish branch of the GOP.

Pruitt’s lip-wobbling could scarcely come at a worse moment for Donald Trump. With his attempt to repeal Obamacare in temporary disarray, he badly needs a clear victory on one of his other battlefronts — not company commanders abandoning their positions at the very moment his flanks are most in danger.

Already, the president has enough trouble on the environment front from other members of his inner circle. Both his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are true believers in the green faith and, like his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have argued for the tone of the President’s Executive Order on the environment to be softened.

If the clause on the Endangerment Finding is removed from the Executive Order, attempts will be made by Pruitt and others to pretend that this isn’t a problem. What matters is all the stuff President Trump is definitely going to do, like cancel Obama’s Clean Power Plan and putting the Paris climate agreement to the Senate so they can overturn it.

But this is disingenuous and misleading.

The Endangerment Finding isn’t some negligible, easily circumnavigable piece of legislation. It was deliberately introduced by environmentalist zealots at the height of the Obama administration as the poison pill which would cripple U.S. industry by rebranding “greenhouse gases,” including CO2, as a pollutant. This gives environmental lawyers carte blanche to sue any U.S. administration that fails properly to combat this alleged menace.

Yet as Cato’s Pat Michaels explained in his lunchtime presentation at the Heartland Institute Climate Conference last week, the Endangerment Finding is based on an entirely flawed premise.

It presupposes that the various computer models used to predict dangerous climate change as a result of rising man-made CO2 levels are reliable and accurate. They are not. With time, the divergence between projected warming and observed warming has grown bigger, not smaller. This means, effectively, that the EPA’s Endangerment Finding declaration has no credible scientific basis whatsoever.

In other words, the environmental movement has strayed so far beyond the realms of science that it has created several barn-door-sized targets for any administration brave enough to take it on. This is an argument that can be won many times over: on the science; on the economics; even on the environment itself — which is being caused untold damage by misguided policies supposedly designed to save it.

But what President Trump needs now more than ever are administrators with the political will to do the right thing — which is, after all, the reason so many Americans voted for him.

If Scott Pruitt is not up to that task, then maybe it’s about time he did the decent thing and handed over the reins to someone who is.


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