Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is drawing scrutiny for his housing situation and travel practices, but in his role as the nation’s top environmental official, he’s a reliable administration foot soldier, making good on President Donald Trump’s campaign promises for fewer environmental regulations and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
Since he was confirmed to the job last February, Pruitt has taken an aggressive approach to rolling back Obama-era regulations, most recently this week’s announcement that he would revise fuel efficiency rules designed to cut back on emissions of greenhouse gases.
“This is another step in the President’s regulatory agenda, de-regulatory agenda … a billion dollars in savings with respect to over 22 significant regulatory actions that we’ve been involved in here at the agency,” Pruitt said at EPA headquarters Tuesday.
The announcement is the latest in a series of moves by Trump and Pruitt to dismantle Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, moves that have drawn some scrutiny for their pace and breadth.
In the 14 months since he became the nation’s top environmental policy official, Pruitt has bit-by-bit overseen the dismantling of a number of regulations and agreements across the agency, and impacting a wide range of issues.
Pruitt has withdrawn the “once in, always in” policy under the Clean Air Act, which determined how facilities that are major sources of hazardous air pollutants are regulated.
He announced plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era climate rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
“I do think that the administration has been aggressively deregulatory across the board, across agencies. But the EPA stands out even in that crowd,” Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown University law professor who served as the EPA’s associate administrator for the Office of Policy between July 2009 and December 2010. “(Pruitt’s) decisions appear to move all in one direction. He’s not just limiting himself to one program. Across the agency, he appears to be acting in a uniformly deregulatory way.”
Pruitt is the latest Cabinet official caught up in a swirl of bad press, facing an uncertain future within the Trump administration. But unlike the situations surrounding former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the policies he’s enacted seem to be in line with the President’s policy goals.
In one instance, Pruitt is also now suggesting tacking on additional import restrictions onto a review of fuel efficiency regulations as a way to strengthen Trump’s aggressive stance on tariffs and trade, according to a White House official familiar with recent discussions between the administration and the EPA. This source says the changes amount to “crazy import restrictions.”
This source did not believe the restrictions would pass muster, but rather saw it as a way for Pruitt to carry favor with the President as the administrator faces intense scrutiny for possible ethical violations. The drafted restrictions would be unrealistic, according to this source, but Pruitt tried to “package it for the President so that it looks that way.”
“He is trying so hard to please the President,” the source said.
The drafted restrictions, suggested unexpectedly on Friday by Pruitt’s office, would raise greenhouse gas standards on imported vehicles as a way to limit the flow of foreign cars entering the United States, as per this source.
“The idea wasn’t fully baked,” said the source, but it comes at a time when the Trump administration is targeting imports, notably placing tariffs on steel and aluminum.