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Trump's Pick To Lead The EPA Has A History Of Battling The EPA


This morning, President elect Donald Trump officially named his pick to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. He's an outspoken critic of President Obama's climate change policies. Joe Wertz from StateImpact Oklahoma reports that Pruitt's fight with the federal government and his ties with energy companies have made him popular with conservative lawmakers in states that rely on the fossil fuel industries.

JOE WERTZ, BYLINE: Attorney General Pruitt has made a name for himself fighting the very federal agency he will likely soon lead. The pick is seen by many as a clear signal that Trump intends to dismantle the environmental legacy of President Obama. If that's true, Attorney General Pruitt could be just the man to bring on big changes at the EPA.


SCOTT PRUITT: The EPA, under this administration, treats states like a vessel of federal will.

WERTZ: That was Pruitt in May of 2015 railing against the Clean Power Plan, the agency's efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants and testimony before a Senate subcommittee on the environment.


PRUITT: The EPA believes states exist to implement the policies the administration sees fit, regardless of whether the laws like the Clean Air Act permit such action.

WERTZ: Pruitt was a state legislator before being elected attorney general in 2010. He quickly organized a new federalism unit to battle, in his words, unwarranted regulation and federal overreach. In that capacity, Pruitt has been a principal architect of a coordinated legal attempt to block EPA regulations with the courts, which has made him a favorite among conservatives. He's filed lawsuits against the agency and joined ones filed by attorneys general in other states.

Some of those efforts have failed, others have gained traction. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan while legal challenges mounted. The high court will likely determine the plan's fate next year. Pruitt has also sued the EPA for settling lawsuits. He's accused the Obama administration of using legal settlements to agree to environmental regulations that overstep its authority.

Pruitt sees this as an attempt to hobble coal and natural gas. Here he is again in his Senate testimony.


PRUITT: The agency is now being used to pick winners and losers in the energy market by elevating renewable power at the expense of fossil fuel generation.

WERTZ: Glenn Coffee was in Pruitt's freshman class in the Oklahoma Senate.

GLENN COFFEE: Well, I think he has a head start on understanding what he views as wrong with that agency.

WERTZ: They also worked together when Coffee became secretary of state and Pruitt was elected AG. Coffee says Pruitt is aggressive and high energy. He says Pruitt will likely reform the EPA but won't try to go it alone.

COFFEE: I think he's capable of not just taking a firm position and fighting for those interests but also being a consensus builder and helping bridge the gap and find solutions with other parties.

WERTZ: Coffee says the fossil fuel industry will likely be part of building that consensus. Pruitt has close ties to Oklahoma's number one industry, oil and gas, a big financial backer of his political campaigns. The Oklahoma attorney general has also taken the unusual step of collaborating with energy companies in challenging the EPA, which pending Senate confirmation, he's poised to lead.

For NPR News, I'm Joe Wertz in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.