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Pruitt to head US Environmental Protection Agency

By | Bryan Donoghue

President Donald J. Trump and his administration have selected the Oklahoma Attorney General Edward Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This action could disrupt former President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat climate change and could also limit the power held by the EPA.   

According to The Washington Post, Pruitt has long been a critic of the EPA and has led legal challenges against some of the agency’s actions. These actions include efforts to lessen greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and determining which wetlands and streams are subject to federal regulation.

William Fisher, HSU economics professor, said of Pruitt, “He’s openly hostile to things like climate change and he’s representative of the fossil fuel industry.”

Under Pruitt’s leadership of the EPA, incommensurate views on various environmental topics may result in inhospitable outcomes.

The most crucial concern of Pruitt’s appointed position among the local Humboldt community seems to be budget cuts.

“He has the power to defund research,” said biochemistry major Marcella Atencio. “So if something doesn’t support his political view or agenda, he does have the ability to defund that. If he does, there’s not much the research can do about that unless they get a private investor. The odds are that he has to agree with that and that makes things much more difficult.”  

The sentiment around budget cuts in the EPA seem to be universal among students and faculty. Fisher doesn’t know for certain whether the EPA will receive budget cuts. He believes that it is likely under this specific administration, though not necessary, for overall budget concerns nationally.

“Really, you see in many different administrations, they don’t have to eliminate certain programs, or even the budgets for those,” said Fisher.

According to The New York Times, Pruitt plays a hero to conservative activists. He is one part of a group of Republican attorney generals who allied with some of the nation’s leading energy producers to push back against the Obama administration’s plans. This conflict of interest surrounding fossil fuel has been received with controversy, but played a large part with President Trump’s selection of Pruitt.

Journalism major Alex Gonzalez pictures the change in EPA leadership as backtracking all progress the nation has made over the past few years to lessen our effects on the environment. 

“It’s saddening to think how little our country will care about the environment because the U.S. sets an example for all the other nations to follow,” Gonzalez said. “Under new conservative views, other countries will follow leading to an overall decline to the health of the earth.”

An unavoidable hurdle in the EPA that will most likely happen under Pruitt’s leadership is dormancy of the agency.

“He could attempt to gut a lot of the regulations of the EPA, some of that would take time,” Fisher said. “So probably the biggest impact that he’d be able to have immediately would be not utilizing the powers of the EPA.”

Though Pruitt will likely still utilize the EPA’s power, a change in policy takes time.

“Dismantling things like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act can take a lot of time and effort, and underfunding the EPA will probably happen,” Fisher said. “It’s almost guaranteed that they won’t police what they’re supposed to be policing.”

The Washington Post states that dismantling regulation, if it survives the courts, would not be simple because the EPA has already finalized it. This means that to undo and replace regulations would require a public notice and comment process. Environmental groups would likely sue the agency over such a move. 

Pruitt has yet to take his seat as the head of the EPA, as he still needs to be approved. According to a recent article in The Huffington Post, Pruitt is now being backed by the Koch Brothers, a name synonymous with success in the crude oil industry. For now, we can only wait to see which actions Pruitt will take.

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