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Opinion

EPA regulatory capture leads to conflicts of interest, potential disaster for the environment

Carl Meeker

March 28, 2018

Within a regulatory agency like the EPA, science is the fundamental basis for all actions. For DDT, there was an overwhelming amount of scientific data showing a direct link with the loss of the bald eagle. Few companies, however, were willing to voluntarily stop their use of DDT. It was therefore left to the EPA to regulate the use of DDT and numerous other concerns regarding public health and well-being.

Enter Scott Pruitt, who was active in the state politics of Oklahoma first as a state senator and eventually as the state attorney general. Throughout his career, he has been anti-science and anti-EPA. Throughout his election campaigns he received major contributions from the fossil fuel industry due to his anti-regulatory beliefs.

As attorney general, he dissolved the Environmental Protection Unit in the Attorney General’s office, which is responsible for the enforcement of environmental laws. He then went on to file multiple lawsuits against the EPA. Among those lawsuits, a few were filed jointly by corporations of the fossil fuel industry. Another of his suits was for the Oklahoma utility that objected to increased regulations of the coal-fired power plants.

In December 2016, Trump nominated Pruitt to be the head of the EPA. By January of 2017, Pruitt has sued the EPA 13 times, all of them failing. The very next month, February 2017, the Senate confirmed Pruitt, 52 to 46, as head of the EPA. This comes after he has continually fought and criticized the agency and accepted numerous donations from the industries the EPA was established to regulate. Regulatory capture in action.

Is it any surprise, then, what would follow his appointment? At the behest of Trump, he is working to repeal the Clean Power Act, which sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants by 32% from their 2005 levels while also encouraging the use of renewable energy and improving energy conservation.

He is working to overturn the Clean Water Rule, which provides updates to the Clean Water Act of 1972. He has supported the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement that seeks to reduce human impacts on the environment and to limit the fallout of anthropogenic climate change. Both Trump and Pruitt both believe these impacts are not happening to such an extent that they have removed the climate change page on the EPA website and to also severely cut back all funding on research of climate change.

In March of 2017, Pruitt met with 45 board members from the American Petroleum Institute who urged him to reverse a regulation of methane leaks from their wells. Pruitt went on to delay the implementation of this rule for two years. His decision, however, was vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a 2 to 1 ruling, saying that his move was “arbitrary”, “capricious” and in violation of the Clean Air Act.

All of this is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Can we entrust the EPA and our environment in the hands of a man that is the antithesis of the EPA and its purpose? Can we entrust these issues to a man who holds greater concern for the well-being of corporations over the citizens that he is meant to serve? It demonstrates the concept of regulatory capture, leaving the future of the EPA and the U.S. environments in a precarious position: in the hands of a man with an overwhelming number of conflicts of interest.

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