Dear Congress: He who detests environmental regulation shall not head the EPA
February 15th, 2017
Dear Senator _____,
It is with tremendous concern that we write to you regarding President Donald J. Trump’s nomination of Mr. Scott Pruitt to the position of Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The purpose of the EPA is to “ensure that all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn, and work.” In Mr. Pruitt’s previous role as the Attorney General of Oklahoma, he sued the EPA dozens of times over environmental regulations designed to protect public health and safety. In doing so, Mr. Pruitt showed that he was willing to fight environmental regulations established to protect the people he swore to serve as Attorney General. He did not act in the best interest of the people of Oklahoma and instead acted to safeguard the profit of corporations that financially back his political career. If Mr. Pruitt was incapable of seeing the value of environmental regulations as Oklahoma Attorney General, we believe he is unfit to serve as head of the agency that works to develop and implement environmental policy in our country.
Environmental policy is a key component of legislation crafted by our nation’s leaders to protect public health and safety. The environmental regulations established by the EPA result in clear, measurable improvements to society. While most Americans might not think about how privileged we are to breathe clean air and have access to safe drinking water, it is only because of national environmental policy such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and cross-state pollution regulations that these resources are protected from contamination. Studies show that regulations established under the Clean Air Act in particular have dramatically decreased the incidence of pollution-related heart disease and asthma and increased life expectancy across the country (1). In addition to health benefits and reduced healthcare costs, these regulations have also decreased the number of lost work days due to illness, increasing average productivity in the workplace. These laws have clearly resulted in measurable improvements to society.
The EPA’s rules and regulations are also cost effective. No rule, regulation, or policy has ever been established by the EPA without first considering the results of an extensive cost-benefit analysis. Proponents of any current environmental policy can demonstrate that the benefits of that regulation far exceed the costs. For example, a recent multi-organization report shows that for every $1 spent on air quality regulation, benefits to society total $30 to $90 (2). It’s hard to top that kind of investment.
Despite the clear benefits of environmental policy, Mr. Pruitt has shown nothing but disdain for the EPA. He is also one of the nation’s most prominent climate skeptics. Only when he was directly asked by United States senators during his confirmation hearings in January 2017 did Mr. Pruitt state that he acknowledged the existence of climate change. As recently as May of 2016, Mr. Pruitt’s stance on climate change was that the science was “far from settled.” His sudden reversal is not in any way reassuring to us that he understands climate change and the risks it poses to public health and safety.
Furthermore, Mr. Pruitt failed to state in his confirmation hearing that he recognized human activity as the primary driver of climate change, when a clear majority of scientists (over 97%) argue that climate change is primarily caused by anthropogenic emissions (3). As the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase due to the combustion of fossil fuels, both the atmosphere and ocean are warming, snow accumulation is diminishing, ice sheets are melting at an unprecedented rate, and sea levels are rising. This has profound effects on our daily meteorology in Wisconsin (4), with an increased potential for deadly summer heat waves and winter snow storms that have been linked to human fatalities. Our infrastructure is at risk of flooding due to increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and animal- and water-borne diseases (e.g. West Nile Virus) are more likely to thrive as temperatures rise. Communities around the world are already experiencing the effects of climate change (5), including coastal towns in the United States, and without international efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate and adapt to climate change, economies will collapse and people will die. If Mr. Pruitt is not a strong voice in favor of climate policy, he is totally unqualified to lead the EPA. For more information regarding the impacts of climate change in the state of Wisconsin, we encourage you to read selected chapters from the National Climate Assessment, focused on impacts in the Midwest and the state of Wisconsin.
We urge you to vote no on the confirmation of Mr. Pruitt to the position of Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. We cannot afford to have a man who so obviously detests environmental regulation oversee the development and implementation of environmental policy at the national level.
Olivia Sanderfoot, B.S.*+
Graduate Researcher, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
University of Wisconsin — Madison
Alexandra Karambelas, Ph.D.*+
Research Scientist, The Earth Institute
Columbia University in the City of New York
New York, NY
*alumni of the University of Wisconsin — Madison
+long-time residents of the Midwest (>20 years)