- In a brief speech that was heavy on undertones, newly-confirmed Administrator Scott Pruitt addressed staff of the Environmental Protection Agency today, calling for civility and communication while also stressing "respect" and "the rule of law."
- Pruitt's address to EPA staff came after a controversial confirmation process where many career employees of the agency contacted lawmakers to oppose his nomination. Pruitt sued the agency more than a dozen times as attorney general of Oklahoma, leading environmentalists to fear he will unravel federal air and water regulations.
- Pruitt's first speech as EPA administrator also came the same day as his Oklahoma office has been directed by a court to release thousands of emails which activists say could shed further light on his relationship with the fossil fuel industry.
Pruitt addressed EPA staff and the media Tuesday afternoon in brief remarks that focused on historical examples of bipartisanship and his belief that regulation must give certainty to markets and deference to legislators. He took no questions.
His highly-anticipated speech came as many believe the White House is preparing to roll out a slate of executive orders aimed at cancelling the Clean Power Plan and rules governing coal leasing and production.
The plans have caused alarm among environmentalists, but Pruitt sought to allay some of the fears, characterizing himself as a "good listener," and decrying the "toxic" political environment of late. But his comments also seemed to leave little doubt that he will continue to fight for less federal intervention into state energy and climate decisions.
Rulemaking "needs to be tethered to the statute," Pruitt said. A frequent conservative criticism of President Obama's greenhouse gas regulations was that the Clean Power Plan went beyond EPA's authority to regulate.
"I seek to ensure we engender the trust of those at the state level, so they see us as partners and not adversaries," Pruitt said. He also stressed the importance of "process, federalism, and rule of law."
Pruitt's focus on conservative interpretations of federal environmental laws reflected comments he made during his confirmation hearing, when he upheld the EPA's legal obligation to regulate pollutants like carbon and mercury, but said the Obama-era regulations infringed on state jurisdiction over power policy.
That stance implies that Pruitt's EPA would have to issue new rules to control carbon emissions from the power sector if it rescinds the Clean Power Plan and other regulations. Pruitt gave would not give details on a potential replacement in the hearing, but he reportedly prepared an alternative to the CPP in 2014 as Oklahoma's top lawyer.
That plan, the New York Times reports, would allow existing coal generation to stay online longer and likely put international climate commitments made by Obama under threat. But whether Pruitt's EPA will even attempt to craft such a rule now appears in question. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the new EPA administrator said it's a "fair question" whether the EPA even has the "tools" to regulate carbon from the power sector, implying a legislative fix may be needed.