When Scott Pruitt made a short appearance at Earth Day Texas last week for a “fireside chat-style” Q&A, not everyone was enthusiastic about the visit.
“You’re gutting the EPA,” a man in the crowd yelled before being escorted out. “How much money are you being paid to do this? … You’re a monster.”
Several protesters interrupted the EPA administrator’s visit in Dallas on Friday, both at the reception and the chat itself. A little more than 50 days into his job as heading the EPA, Pruitt has drawn wide criticism.
Almost 800 former EPA officials urged the U.S. Senate to reject Pruitt’s nomination to head the agency.
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA at least 14 times to block pollution regulations.
At his seven-hour long confirmation hearing in January, senators grilled Pruitt about the lawsuits. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA at least 14 times to block pollution regulations.
Environmentalists are concerned Pruitt will rollback regulations made under previous administrations that were designed to protect the environment. Pruitt has also been criticized for positions he holds regarding the environment.
Despite a consensus on the matter from scientists, Pruitt has said he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. The agency he leads acknowledges the science.
On Friday, Pruitt discussed his recently announced “back-to-basics” approach, which focuses on the EPA’s “intended mission,” giving power to states and increasing employment.
Before the discussion with Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton began, Sitton reminded the audience to stay civil.
“Not everyone has to agree,” Sitton told the audience.
Pruitt said under the Trump administration, the EPA has an opportunity to get “back to basics.”
“We’re trying to set some objectives, some metrics to achieve measurable outcomes in key areas,” he said.
Part of getting back to basics is focusing on cleaning up U.S. superfund sites, Pruitt said. Oklahoma has 15 superfund sites, which are apart of a federal EPA program that aims to clean up hazardous waste sites.
The improvement of air quality and water infrastructure should be another priority, Pruitt said.
Pruitt revisited the idea of setting clear objectives several times in the 15-minute talk.
“Those who are regulated want to know what is expected of them,” Pruitt said.
Oftentimes in the past the EPA has issued regulations and then several years later, given a different rule that displaces the first, Pruitt said. The agency needs to work with a long-term view that results in measurable outcomes.
“And so you have industry out there working to comply with the rule and investing capital to achieve the outcomes and then in a short time frame that all be arranged,” he said.
The EPA chief said industries should have clear, concrete goals and the opportunity to use “innovation and technology to reach those objectives.”
Pruitt’s talk was disrupted by individual protestors three times, all of whom were escorted out of the auditorium.
Following the removal of the third protestor, Pruitt joked “Well, I told you the OU-Texas rivalry was quite intense.”
Not everyone disapproved of Pruitt’s presence — several of his responses were met with applause from the audience.
Prior to the discussion, two protestors held a demonstration during a reception where attendees were drinking beer and eating hors d’oeuvres while awaiting Pruitt, who was 15 minutes late.
Two women here protesting Scott Pruitt. He’s speaking at Earth Day Texas. pic.twitter.com/LAs43Tbu6f
— Kassie McClung (@KassieMcClung) April 21, 2017
“We don’t want you here speaking,” a woman carrying a white banner that read “Scott Pruitt” yelled. “You are part of the problem, Scott Pruitt.”
Pruitt said Friday he that during his time as Oklahoma’s AG, he believed the EPA played an important role and he made that role one of his focuses.
Pruitt said “there is a place for the EPA to step in,” but the agency needs to stay in its lane.
When he became attorney general, Pruitt shut down an environmental unit established by former Attorney General Drew Edmondson and shifted staff to a newly created federalism unit, which has five attorneys.
When Pruitt sued the EPA as attorney general, in all but one case, energy companies that donated to his campaign — or to political action committees that donated — joined him in those lawsuits.
An investigation by The Frontier found Pruitt’s office failed to follow a state law requiring him to disclose spending on outside attorneys.
Though Edmondson reported his outside legal spending, Pruitt hadn’t done so since fiscal year 2011, when he was in office for half of the year.
Lori Sheltman was the coordinator for the AG’s “20i program,” gathering reports from other state agencies on their contracts and spending on outside attorneys.
Sheltman told The Frontier that Pruitt’s assistant told her the information on the agency’s contracts and total spending would be removed from the report.
“He just didn’t want anybody to know what he was paying outside counsel because he was making such a big deal about what other agencies were spending on that. He was paying more out than some of the agencies he was talking about,” she said.
An agency spokesman said the attorney general in no way violated the law.
“The 20i process is the process by which the Attorney General’s Office reviews and approves other agencies’ hiring of outside counsel. … The floated interpretation would have the office receiving and approving its own contracts, of which it already has complete knowledge.”