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12 December 2016

Meet Scott Pruitt – a climate change denier with a top job from Donald Trump

A man who has (unsuccessfully) sued the Environmental Protection Agency for excessive regulation is now in charge of it. 

By India Bourke

The appointment of Scott Pruitt to head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed environmentalists’ worst fears: that Donald Trump intends to dismantle Barack Obama’s legacy.

The nomination “is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires,” said a statement from the Sierra Club, America’s largest environmental organisation.

And it’s not hard to see what the problem is. In a year when global temperatures have soared and Paris has resorted to banning cars to combat pollution, Pruitt thinks it would be a good idea to lift constraints on the fossil fuel industry.

He has already intervened on behalf of the oil industry and pushed for schools to “debate” the existence of man-made climate change. He has even unsuccessfully sued the EPA itself several times.

Americans are “tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations,” he was quoted as saying in the statement confirming his appointment.

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So how has Pruitt ended up in a position of power?

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His childhood certainly involved some hard knocks – of the football variety. The 48-year-old grew up in Kentucky, where he became a standout baseball player and earned a year’s scholarship to the UK. He later trained as a lawyer and become the attorney general for Oklahoma. In this role he attempted to restrict abortion and brought a lawsuit against Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

As Greenpeace reports, Pruitt has received $318,496 in campaign contributions from oil and gas industry. In 2014, the New York Times revealed that a letter Pruitt sent to the EPA, on state letterhead – alleging that they had over-estimated the amount of air pollution caused by drilling – had in fact been drafted by one of the state’s biggest oil and gas companies.

He has also played a leading role in the legal challenge to Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CCP). A role which has involved secret, paid-for, meetings with fossil fuel companies.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, however, are his views on climate change. In an article for the National Review, he claims that the debate on the man-made nature of climate change “is far from settled”. Instead, it “should be encouraged – in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress”. Around 97 per cent of scientists agree that human reliance on fossil fuels is warming our planet. 

Pruitt’s appointment answers the question: what does Donald Trump really think about climate change? In a recent interview with the New York Times, Trump appeared to renounce his previous denialism (and Chinese-hoax-blaming). “I have an open mind to it,” he told the reporter. Next, a Politico article suggested that his daughter, Ivanka Trump, would make action on climate change one of her “signature issues’. 

For Karl Mathiesen at Climate Home, the above shenanigans are a “well-executed deception” that has made a pawn of the press. The Economist, on the other hand, sees such contradictory behaviour as “a reminder of how limited any adviser’s hold on Trump is”.