President-elect Donald Trump has announced he will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is seen as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, The New York Times revealed that Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general had formed what the paper described as an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the nation's top energy producers to fight Obama's climate efforts. Senator Bernie Sanders said, "Pruitt's record is not only that of being a climate change denier, but also someone who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to make this country more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels." For more, we speak with May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, and Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
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NERMEEN SHAIKH: President-elect Donald Trump has announced he will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has been one of the EPA's fiercest critics and has led a legal effort to overturn parts of President Obama's climate change policies, including his Clean Power Plan. Pruitt claimed the science of climate change is, quote, "far from settled." He is also seen as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, The New York Times revealed that Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general had formed what the paper described as a, quote, "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the nation's top energy producers to fight Obama's climate efforts.
AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times also exposed Pruitt's close ties to the Oklahoma firm Devon Energy. In 2014, Pruitt sent the EPA a letter accusing federal regulators of overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in Oklahoma. What Pruitt didn't reveal was that the letter was secretly drafted by lawyers at Devon Energy. In 2015, Pruitt testified before Congress about his opposition to the EPA's Clean Power Plan regulations. When questioned by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Pruitt refused to acknowledge the existence of climate change.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Is climate change a problem anywhere in the world?
ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: Senator, I think that the process matters that the EPA engages in --
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: I get that.
ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: -- to address these issues. And that's the focus --
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: But I didn't ask you a process question. I asked you a question about whether climate change --
ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: I think that question --
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: -- is a real problem anywhere in the world.
ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: I think the question about climate action plan of the president, climate change, is something that's a policy consideration of this Congress. If you want EPA to address that in a direct way, you can amend the Clean Air Act to provide that authority and the statutory power to do so, so that the states can know how to conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with statutory construction. That's not --
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: So, to be clear --
ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: That's not --
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: -- neither of the attorney generals present will concede that climate change is a real problem anywhere in the world.
ATTORNEY GENERAL SCOTT PRUITT: Senator, I think it's immaterial to discussions about the legal framework of the Clean Air Act.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Immaterial or not, I get to ask questions. And so, it's material to my question. All right, let's go on to something else.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse questioning Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt last year. Trump's selection of Pruitt to head the EPA has been widely criticized by environmental groups and lawmakers concerned about the climate change crisis. Senator Bernie Sanders said, quote, "Pruitt's record is not only that of being a climate change denier, but also someone who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to make this country more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels."
AMY GOODMAN: Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said, quote, "It's a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history."
To talk more about Scott Pruitt, we're joined by two guests. Here in New York, May Boeve is with us, executive director of 350 Action, the political arm of the climate organization 350.org. And joining us from Washington, DC, is Wenonah Hauter. She is executive director of Food & Water Watch.
Wenonah, let us begin with you. Oklahoma's attorney general, Scott Pruitt, tapped to head the EPA, your response?
WENONAH HAUTER: Well, you know, I first ran into Scott Pruitt when I was writing my recent book, Frackopoly, on the history of the oil and gas industry, and saw that he was one of the leading attorney generals lobbying on what he called sue-and-settle legislation, which we know that our citizenry has the right to sue the federal government when the government is not doing what's in their best interest. And he was lobbying in favor of Devon and Continental Resources in trying to stop the ability of citizens to actually move forward with lawsuits.
I think that putting Pruitt in charge of the EPA is a lot like putting one of The Three Stooges in charge of the agency, because he is not really credible on any of the issues around the environment. We can look at what he did in 2013 when he brought nine attorney generals to Oklahoma City, some of the most powerful law firms that represent the energy industry, along with the CEOs of many energy companies, to put together a scheme about how they were going to stop the federal government from taking action to stop the pollution from fossil fuel drilling and fracking. This was paid for by the right-wing energy and law institute at George Mason University.
The fossil fuel industry actually helped raise the money to put him in office. And one of the first things he did upon becoming the attorney general of Oklahoma was to start a committee on federalism, because what's unfortunate about Pruitt is, not only is he a cartoon character, but he's a very smart politician. And he saw the possibility of creating what is a lot like a national law firm, made up of attorney generals and also the legal arm of the energy industry, to be able to not only hassle the EPA, but also what was going on at state legislatures regarding fossil fuel development. So I think he's a very dangerous character.
I think that he is going to attempt to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, and not just in the area of fossil fuels, but also around the pollution from factory farming and industrialized agriculture. He has been an ally of the big corporations that own these large animal factories. In fact, there was legislation that was turned down in Oklahoma in the last election called Freedom to Farm, which, of course, really means freedom of factory farms to pollute. So we know that, because the EPA hasn't done a real great job of regulating factory farms anyway, that we're going to see a lot of trouble ahead.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: May Boeve, in the news release that announced his nomination, the Trump transition team called Pruitt "an expert in Constitutional law" and said he, quote, "brings a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy." So could you respond to that and, in particular, the significance of him being a constitutional lawyer?
MAY BOEVE: Well, it's no surprise that he knows about the impact of regulation, because the regulations were starting to work. We were starting to see real pressure on the oil and gas industry on the issue of climate change. And they are pushing back. And so, they are celebrating that Scott Pruitt has been selected for this role. So, his expertise in this area means he's going to try to dismantle the foundation of laws that this country has built around environmental protection. Most significantly right now are the regulations that have been put in place around coal plants, around fracking. They're not nearly as strong as they need to be, but we certainly need the ones that we have. And so, this is a very dangerous appointment. It cannot be overstated. And it shows us exactly what we need to know about Donald Trump.