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Scott Pruitt’s EPA: “Back to Basics” or Slash and Burn?

November 2017

(Washington, DC): EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s “back to basics” agenda for the Agency suggests a renewed focus on the fundamentals of environmental protection. But according to a new article in the November 2017 issue of the Environmental Law Reporter, “Pruitt is not preserving the ‘basics’ of our environmental protection system, but deconstructing them.”

In Back to Basics or Slash and Burn? Scott Pruitt’s Reign as EPA Administrator, former EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Sussman writes, “Instead of doubling down on traditional programs safeguarding air, water, and land, Pruitt’s tenure has been defined by an obsessive focus on undoing the legacy of Barack Obama’s EPA, downsizing the Agency’s workforce and budget, repealing rules on the books, weakening EPA’s science capabilities, and scaling back oversight of state programs.” As a result, “EPA’s ability to maintain core protections and respond to new threats—the bread and butter of EPA’s mission—is rapidly eroding and may suffer irretrievable damage if Pruitt’s policies continue.”

Despite differences in approach between presidential administrations, the core protections EPA implements have shown remarkable stability and continuity over time. This is because the EPA Administrators have generally embraced common values and goals and have built on and strengthened the work of their predecessors. Now, Sussman writes, “EPA’s historic strength—the stability and continuity of basic protections over multiple administrations—has been put at serious risk by Pruitt’s unprecedented push to repeal or scale back the rules of his predecessor and suspend compliance with their requirements.”

Sussman looks at Pruitt’s sweeping efforts to block Obama-era rules, including the Clean Power Plan, “waters of the United States” rule, and toxic discharge limits for steam-electric power plants, among others. He explains why Pruitt’s—and the President’s—indictment of EPA as an overreaching, job-crushing, and lawless agency is not supported by the record. And he points to several actions by the Trump Administration and Pruitt that contradict their avowed commitment to the rule of law and regulatory certainty, including the Agency’s missteps on the new source performance standards for oil and gas industry methane emissions, backpedaling on implementing the new ozone standard, “doublespeak” on EPA’s authority to address climate change, and crippling of the rulemaking process.

Overall, Sussman concludes, “the Agency now faces a threat to its legitimacy and traditional tools more dire and fundamental than any it has confronted before. . . . These trends should be of deep concern to supporters of EPA’s mission, who must come together in its defense before it is too late.”

The article is available for download here.

Bob Sussman served as EPA Deputy Administrator under President William Clinton and as Senior Policy Counsel to the EPA Administrator under President Barack Obama. Formerly a partner at Latham and Watkins, Bob is now an energy and environmental consultant and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center. He can be reached at bobsussman1@comcast.net.

The Environmental Law Reporter is published by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). Opinions presented in the Environmental Law Reporter are those of the author and not necessarily those of ELI or its funders. For general questions about the Environmental Law Reporter, please contact Rachel Jean-Baptiste at jean-baptiste@eli.org.