Trump Nominates Scott Pruitt to Head EPA

Background

On December 8th, Washington Post writers Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson reported that, “President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday nominated Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil and gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, a move signaling an assault on President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy.”

The Post article included this quote from Mr. Pruitt:

“The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

The front page of Thursday’s Washington Post, “Man suing EPA is in line to lead it.”

Amy Harder and Peter Nicholas reported on December 7th at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Mr. Pruitt has touted his leadership role in fighting the EPA rule that cut power-plant carbon emissions, called the Clean Power Plan, as well as an EPA measure that put more bodies of water under federal jurisdiction. Both rules have been temporarily blocked by federal courts as litigation proceeds.”

The Journal writers added that, “Groups representing U.S. farmers hope Mr. Pruitt will roll back Obama policies they view as burdensome, such as the rule putting more waterways and wetlands under federal protection. Farmers feared the rule, which Mr. Pruitt challenged as Oklahoma attorney general, would give the EPA oversight over their ditches and ponds and restrict crop production and land maintenance.

“‘He should be suited to take on these kinds of abuses and overreaching from the agency, to put the agency back on track,’ said Ellen Steen, general counsel at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Ms. Steen said the Farm Bureau, which has challenged the EPA water rule in court, hopes Mr. Pruitt will rescind the regulation.”

The Journal article pointed out that, “Environmentalists urged the Senate to reject his nomination, although that would be an uphill climb as the chamber is controlled by Republicans. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), the incoming Senate Democratic leader, said Mr. Pruitt would face tough questions during his confirmation.”

Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton documented even greater perceived concern about the Pruitt nomination in a front page article in Thursday’s New York Times: “Beyond climate change, the E.P.A. itself may be endangered. Mr. Trump campaigned on a pledge to greatly shrink — or even dismantle — it. ‘We are going to get rid of it in almost every form,’ he once pledged.

“Mr. Pruitt may be the right man to do that. As attorney general, Mr. Pruitt created a ‘federalism unit’ in his office, explicitly designed to fight President Obama’s health care law and environmental regulations.

“‘You could see from him an increasing effort to delegate environmental regulations away from the federal government and towards the states,’ said Ronald Keith Gaddie, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.”

Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney provided a more nuanced perspective in an article in Friday’s Washington Post, “When it comes to reversing the Obama administration’s environmental policies and substantially altering the EPA’s reach, Pruitt ‘can do a fair amount,‘ said Tom McGarity, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who focuses on environmental and regulatory law. ‘He will be moving against institutional inertia, no question about that, but the civil servants in EPA are going to try to do what the boss tells them to do.'”

The Post article added that:

“A key factor will be whether Pruitt appoints high-level staff who know the agency well and are able to get his mandates carried out.”

Agricultural Variables

An update on December 8th at The Oklahoma Farm Report Online stated that, “[Pruitt] explains that federal agencies currently have a view that if something is not acted on or defined specifically by congress, then they believe they have the authority to indecently act on their own, making policy up without oversight and essentially legislating through regulation. Pruitt goes on to say that he hopes this view will change during the transition of the new administration and that all branches of government will act within their appropriate parameters.”

On the Waters of the U.S. Rule, the update added that, “‘I think the states across the country and the Sixth Circuit obviously has spoken to this already; that there is great concern about the definition that’s been deployed and established,’ Pruitt said, referring to the WOTUS rule and the way it was implemented.”

The Oklahoma Farm Report item noted that, “Looking at the Renewable Fuel Standard, Pruitt contends that like many other well-intended rules that have failed to meet their expectations and objectives, he thinks it wise for congress to consider revisiting and reevaluating.

“‘I think the congress needs to look at that and say, ‘is it (working) today?” Pruitt suggests, ‘and I think there are some that are looking into that.'”

Meanwhile, DTN writer Todd Neeley reported on December 7th that, “On the biofuels front, the next EPA head will determine the future of the RFS. The oil and gas industry has generally called for repeal or reform of the RFS.

“Pruitt has been an open critic of the RFS and has ties to the oil and gas industry.

In 2013, Pruitt was supportive of EPA’s decision to lower renewable volume obligations in the RFS. It was the first time the agency made the decision to lower RVOs.”

Mr. Neeley pointed out that, “In March 2013, Pruitt filed a friend of the court brief in an RFS lawsuit. In that filing, Pruitt said increasing ethanol volumes posed a risk to vehicle fuel systems.”

And in a separate DTN article on Friday, Todd Neeley reported that, “Just two days after President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team announced Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was the nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition reminded Trump about his previously stated support for the Renewable Fuels Standard in a letter Friday.

“Interestingly, the letter is signed by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad — Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to China — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, the brother of Chicago Cubs’ owner Todd Ricketts, and Trump’s nominee for deputy commerce secretary, as well as South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard.”

The DTN article added that, “Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst told reporters Thursday she will hold Pruitt’s feet to the fire when it comes to renewable energy, including ethanol, biodiesel and wind energy.”

Mr. Neeley explained that, “Trump’s nomination of Pruitt was curious considering he has been an outspoken critic of the RFS. By and large, however, agriculture interest groups have been fairly supportive of Pruitt’s selection because he has been a staunch critic of the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda. Pruitt led one of many lawsuits to challenge the waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule, for example.”

More specifically to the Trump administration and the RFS, University of Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin noted in a recent interview with Market Journal that, “On one hand, President-elect Trump…the fact that he was elected, is based on his success in Midwestern states, where there is a lot of ethanol support.

“On the other hand, he has clearly shown an interest in some of the arguments made by those coming out of the oil refining business about some of the perceived problems of the RFS.  It is difficult to know how this is all going to play out.

My own personal guess is that you will see probably a little less aggressive implementation of, in particular, the advanced mandate going forward, but the rest of the RFS is unlikely to be touched, in my opinion.”

See the complete Market Journal interview with Dr. Irwin here:

For additional information and analysis about recent RFS issues, see this farmdoc daily article from December 7th: “The RFS and Domestic Consumption of Conventional Ethanol and Biomass-Based Diesel to 2022.”

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary.