Can We Expect More Flint Debacles in a Pruitt-Led EPA?
Call for Commitment to Revive Declining Enforcement and Strengthen Oversight
Washington, DC — While his views on climate change are well known, it is far less clear what approach Scott Pruitt, the Trump nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will bring to bread-and-butter matters such as anti-pollution enforcement and oversight of state programs. Today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is calling on him to affirm that civil and criminal enforcement of federal air, water, toxic and other basic pollution laws will be a high priority in the EPA he seeks to lead.
“Mr. Pruitt has called for returning EPA to its core functions but has yet to spell out exactly what he thinks those core functions are,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “In our view, nothing is more basic at EPA than enforcing anti-pollution laws. If Mr. Pruitt thinks that vigorous enforcement of clean air or water laws by EPA is overreach, then the American public is in deep trouble.”
PEER has submitted a set of ten questions to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to pose when it holds hearings on Pruitt’s confirmation. The questions flow from what, by almost all measures, has been a declining environmental enforcement and oversight posture under Obama –
- Today, EPA is pursuing fewer criminal cases than at any time in the past 20 years. EPA-related prosecutions under Obama are now half of the annual number under his last two predecessors;
- The number of EPA Criminal Investigation Division investigators has reached a 10-year low. EPA today has substantially fewer special agents than the 200 required by the U.S. Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990. Indeed, there is no EPA criminal enforcement presence at all in Mr. Pruitt’s state of Oklahoma; and
- EPA’s Inspector General has repeatedly faulted its oversight of state programs, concluding in one report that under Obama:
“EPA does not administer a consistent national enforcement program… state enforcement programs frequently do not meet national goals [and] are underperforming: EPA data indicate that noncompliance is high and the level of enforcement is low. EPA does not consistently hold states accountable for meeting enforcement standards, has not set clear and consistent national benchmarks, and does not act effectively to curtail weak and inconsistent enforcement by states.”
Mr. Pruitt’s environmental prosecution record as Oklahoma Attorney General has been criticized as lax. Moreover, he has been such a states’ rights advocate and critic of federal “overreach” it is unknown whether he will make EPA’s dismal and declining enforcement and oversight record even worse.
“The key question is whether we can expect more public health crises such as occurred in Flint, Michigan, under a Pruitt-led EPA,” added Ruch, pointing to the case many see as the paradigm illustrating the utter breakdown of EPA oversight of federally-delegated environmental programs. “Before confirming him as EPA Administrator, the Senate must determine specifically what Mr. Pruitt will do to make America’s air and water cleaner.”