Point-Counterpoint: At EPA under Pruitt, who will protect the protectors?


By Michael Brune

We knew this wasn’t going to be pretty — but it’s still shocking. Donald Trump has selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as his nominee for administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Presumably this wasn’t one of the personnel decisions where Trump supposedly took advice from President Obama. Pruitt is not only a climate science denier and fossil fuel apologist, he’s cast himself as a sworn enemy of the very agency he would be in charge of.

If he’s confirmed — and the Sierra Club will do all it can to keep that from happening — then the EPA, which is sworn to protect us from polluters and which has been leading the federal charge on climate change, will be sabotaged from within. It’s like appointing Darth Vader to lead the Rebel Alliance.

Regardless of how this nomination proceeds, though, Trump has made it clear how serious he is about siding with polluters and how little he cares about climate progress. He has named climate denier Myron Ebell to lead the transition for EPA, regardless of who’s appointed. He has named former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy, the same department that Perry once pledged to eliminate. And his pick for Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest publicly traded oil and gas corporation, whose chief experience in international diplomacy is cozying up to Russian oil oligarchs.

As a Los Angeles Times headline declared, “Trump brings Koch network’s green energy foes from the fringe to the center of power.” Even if Pruitt and the rest are rejected, it seems like the climate movement could be stalled.

Or not. Although at the federal level only someone given to delusion or distraction would deny that we have the fight of our lives at hand, that doesn’t mean progress will stop in this country. Far from it. For states, municipalities, corporations and countries around the world, it is still full speed ahead.

From coast to coast, renewable energy will keep gaining ground and climate progress will keep being made. It’s true, we’ll have to resist much of our federal government as it attempts to undermine environmental progress. But as Victor Hugo said, “No army is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Be that as it may, we can’t afford to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to be vandalized by the likes of Scott Pruitt. Once the Trump administration has run its course, we will need some semblance of a healthy EPA to pick up the pieces of federal policy on climate and clean energy. It’s time to protect the protectors.

Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org).