June 27, 2018

Time to Wake Up: Pruitt the Great Deregulator

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, as I rise for my 209th “Time to Wake Up” climate change speech, I return to a familiar subject: disgraced Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Not that long ago, I was here discussing the baker’s dozen of ethical scandals swirling around Pruitt. From his $43,000 “cone of silence” phone booth to the millions he spent on a 20-person security detail, to his lights-and-sirens escapades, to fancy DC restaurant Le Diplomate, Pruitt has come to personify the swamp President Trump promised to drain. And he just keeps on getting swampier.

In just the few weeks since my last speech on Pruitt, we have learned that he used one of his closest aides to plan his vacations, hunt for a Washington apartment, and, most bizarrely, solicit a used hotel mattress from the Trump Hotel. The aide did many of these tasks on government time when she was supposed to be working for taxpayers. That is a clear violation of Federal employment rules. Federal rules also bar officials such as Pruitt from accepting gifts from their subordinates, including these kinds of personal services even on personal time. So one way or the other, this was pretty swampy. We also learned, in a scene worthy of the finest banana republic, that Pruitt had his staffer approach the founder of the fast food chain Chick-fil-A about securing a franchise for Pruitt’s wife.

As the New York Times recently wrote, “Grifters Gonna Grift.” But with all deference to the editorial writers at the Times, I would add that Pruitt’s actions aren’t just matters of grift; they also reveal his servility to the interests of his fossil fuel backers over the interests of the American public. My Republican colleague, Senator Ernst of Iowa, recently said that Pruitt’s efforts to undermine the renewable fuel standard, including the abundance of waivers for refiners, amount to broken promises to American farmers. “He is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, DC,” she said. Amen.

You would think that someone so corrupt would not be long for a President’s Cabinet. You would be wrong. Just last week, in the face of all of Pruitt’s latest scandals, President Trump reaffirmed his support for his EPA Administrator, saying that the Agency is doing really, really well under Pruitt. The President doesn’t see anything wrong with having someone as scandal-plagued as Pruitt in his Cabinet. What he can see is that the fossil fuel industry is solidly lined up behind its servant, Pruitt. He has oil company interests and the front groups they fund telling him to keep Pruitt on the job because Pruitt is rolling back regulations polluters don’t like.

Let’s look at how well Pruitt is really doing for the polluters. Let’s start with Pruitt’s record in the courts.

A number of EPA’s regulatory actions or its failures to regulate have been challenged in court.

Republicans continue to rubberstamp Trump’s activist, extreme-rightwing, and polluter-friendly judicial nominees, but American courts nevertheless remain a forum in which outright lies are not countenanced and in which regulatory agencies such as EPA have to demonstrate the scientific, technical, economic, and legal basis of their regulatory decisions. An agency whose political leadership dissembles or doesn’t do its homework won’t do well in court.

So how has Scott Pruitt’s EPA fared in the courts? In two words, not well. Our Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member, Tom Carper, recently released a report analyzing Pruitt’s record in court. As you can see from this chart, 66 cases have been filed against Pruitt’s EPA in relation to ethics and transparency. I know this comes as little shock, given Pruitt’s numerous and continuing ethical shortcomings. Of the 14 of these ethics cases that have already been decided by a judge, EPA lost 13 of them. That is a 7-percent success rate for Pruitt. The other 79 cases challenge EPA’s regulatory actions or inactions.

This is what Pruitt is supposed to be there for–rolling back rules protecting public health and the environment to make his fossil fuel patrons happy. This is why he still has industry support. This is why he is still running EPA despite all the scandals. You can be corrupt in this administration as long as you are corrupt for the right people.

Of the six of these cases that have been fully reviewed by the courts, Pruitt’s EPA lost four of them, succeeded in delaying arguments on one, and got another dismissed on mootness grounds after withdrawing the challenged rule. In other words, Pruitt is zero for six before the courts when it comes to defending his regulatory rollbacks. Pruitt is a former baseball player, so he will understand it when I say that he is batting way below the Mendoza line.

The courts have blocked Pruitt’s attempt to delay the implementation of a rule curbing methane emissions from new oil and gas wells. Methane, of course, is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The courts also blocked Pruitt’s effort to slow-walk EPA’s revision of lead paint standards. Pruitt wanted another 6 years to revise the standards, and the courts gave him 90 days.

Many of Pruitt’s biggest deregulatory actions, after a splashy announcement, have yet to even be finalized, so they aren’t yet ripe for judicial review. But even on these half-baked rollbacks, Pruitt is making mistakes that will provide ample ammunition in court for those who will sue him.

Take Pruitt’s rulemaking to rescind the Clean Power Plan–President Obama’s blueprint to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued three times to block the Clean Power Plan. He has a long record against the Clean Power Plan in the press, at industry conferences, and on social media. Many of the same fossil fuel industry donors who have bankrolled Pruitt’s political career are on the other side, suing to block the Clean Power Plan.

Pruitt has not even revealed the full depth of his fiscal engagement with the fossil fuel industry because he has never fessed up to who gave money to his dark money political operation, so it is actually probably worse than we know.

Well, here is where America’s rule of law kicks in. America’s rule of law provides that those who are interested in an agency rulemaking “have a right to a fair and open proceeding; that right includes access to an impartial decision maker.” Here, given Pruitt’s strident opposition to the Clean Power Plan as attorney general, combined with his sickeningly close financial and political ties with the industry opposing it, can there be any doubt that Pruitt possesses what under law one would call an unalterably closed mind when it comes to the Clean Power Plan? Courts will take notice of that sort of thing.

Then there is Pruitt’s effort to exclude certain scientific studies from consideration in rulemaking. Pruitt claims it is to boost transparency. That couldn’t be phonier. It is an effort to boost two industries that are big donors to his political operations–fossil fuel and tobacco.

For decades, fossil fuel and tobacco have pushed to prevent regulatory agencies from considering scientific studies that rely on people’s medical records. They have figured out that because people like their medical records to be private and because public health studies rely on private medical records, if they can cook up the notion that that is somehow a transparency problem, they can take the entire corpus of public health science based on medical records and put it in the bin. Blocking that public health evidence is a way for these industries to screen out the most damning evidence in actual Americans’ actual health records of the effects of tobacco smoke and air pollution on human health.

Pruitt’s own Science Advisory Board isn’t buying that one. He rebuffed the Board’s request for information about this proposed rule and issued it without the Board’s input. When he claimed that his proposed rule was consistent with the position of various scientific journals and groups, those journals and groups stood up and said: Oh, no. They were quick to correct the record. And EPA’s Science Advisory Board just voted unanimously to examine the policy anyway.

You might think that such a rule may also exclude some industry-funded studies, but never fear–internal emails obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists show that Pruitt’s lackeys, themselves former industry lobbyists, knew they had to make sure industry studies could still be considered by EPA.

It would be great to take all of the real public health studies that rely on real healthcare information, pretend that is a transparency problem, shove them off to the side, and then have industry-funded studies left to rely upon. Well, the Pruitt lackeys pulled a little trick and put in the proposed rule that the Administrator can include any study he likes, regardless of what the rule may require, opening up a nice, safe harbor for his industry sponsors’ industry-funded studies.

All of this sounds pretty arbitrary and capricious to me. And “arbitrary and capricious” by the way, is the legal standard courts will use to evaluate challenges to this phony baloney rule.

Pruitt’s drive to weaken fuel economy standards also looks to be on shaky legal ground. They cobbled together a 38-page document in April announcing Pruitt’s intention to roll back the 2012 auto fuel efficiency standards. That cobbled-together report is devoid of the type of serious, detailed analysis that courts typically look for in such a rulemaking. Half of that little document is just quotes from car companies objecting to the rule. By comparison, the Obama administration assembled a 1,217-page document justifying those standards, chockful of real scientific, technical, and economic analysis–all of the stuff the Pruitt EPA is allergic to.

Once again, Pruitt’s work product looks pretty arbitrary and capricious–short on facts, short on analysis, long on giveaways to industries that fund him. It is entirely understandable that the interests to which Pruitt is beholden would be fighting for him to keep his job. They love this. For them, Pruitt running this public health agency into the ground is a feature, not a bug, of the Pruitt tenure. They are just in it for the regulatory rollbacks.

I hope they recognize a lot of Pruitt’s work is so sloppy that, ultimately, it will likely not stand up in court. I hope President Trump understands the guy he thinks of as his great deregulator isn’t very good at deregulating.

Only time will tell how long Scott Pruitt can survive the mounting, swirling, ethical ordeals of his own making. We will also see how his industry friendly regulatory record fares under the scrutiny of honest courts. Something tells me I will be back here in the not-too-distant future with more to say about the troubled and disgraceful tenure of Scott Pruitt.

I yield the floor.

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