The U.S. Senate is expected to consider the confirmation of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Unfortunately, the EPA is also the agency that Pruitt has spent decades working to undermine.
Our bedrock environmental laws passed Congress decades ago with broad bipartisan support. The Clean Air Act passed in 1970 unanimously, save one vote. The Clean Water Act was also wildly popular when it passed. Republican President Richard Nixon established the EPA to enforce these and other environmental protections. The agency's authority was strengthened by another Republican president, George H.W. Bush.
Today, as in the past four decades, protecting our air and water and ensuring the health of our families has enjoyed strong bipartisan support from elected officials and most Americans.
Pruitt's track record as Oklahoma attorney general paints a bleak picture of what his leadership of the agency would mean for American families. Pruitt joined polluters in a staggering 14 lawsuits against the very agency he has been selected to lead. These suits aimed to dismantle critical public health safeguards ranging from the Clean Water Rule that protects drinking water sources for 117 million Americans, including 15,000 miles of streams in Florida, to the Mercury and Air Toxic rule that protects our kids and other vulnerable citizens from highly damaging pollution.
As attorney general, he delayed legal action to clean up major poultry pollution plaguing his state's waterways. This is especially concerning for Florida, given that our waterways are continuously polluted from agricultural runoff, including the phosphate pollution that led to the massive toxic algae bloom this past summer.
Pruitt led the opposition to EPA's Clean Power Plan, which set the first national limits on carbon pollution. He even dismantled the environmental control unit of his own office.
Pruitt's track record as attorney general set environmental protections backward, not forward. And it has been difficult to find anything he did to protect the health of Oklahomans. Oklahoma has been ground zero for asthma problems, which affect 1 in every 10 kids in the state. During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt couldn't name one time that he filed a case in support of kids with asthma.
Pruitt's knowledge of science, which should underpin all decisions made by the EPA, is sorely lacking as is his familiarity with the most basic and pressing issues facing the agency he hopes to direct. He has said human-caused climate change is a matter of "continuing debate," clearly at odds with scientific consensus. He had no comment on how much lead in drinking water could harm humans or on the potential health impacts of exercising outdoors on a day with poor air quality. In fact, he could not identify one EPA safeguard that he actually supports.
Ironically, Pruitt's loyalty to fossil fuel interests is easier to identify. Pruitt accepted approximately $350,000 from the fossil fuel industry, including the Koch brothers. And more than once, he put his official attorney general letterhead and his signature on letters written by oil companies objecting to EPA policy, then sent them to the agency he is now hoping to oversee.
Pruitt is outside the mainstream in his actions and views when it comes to protecting our air and water, stopping the worst impacts of climate change and keeping our families healthy. The vast majority of Americans continue to support a clean and healthy environment and the rules and laws designed to keep it that way.
Floridians and all Americans deserve an EPA administrator who will fight to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the planet we love. Pruitt fails on all these accounts. We're urging Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to stand with science, our families' health, clean water and clean air and reject Pruitt's nomination to head the EPA.
Turner Lott is a campaign organizer for Environment Florida, an environmental advocacy group. David Hastings is a professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College.