Scott Pruitt Signals Dramatic Shift in EPA Priorities
The Wall Street Journal, 22 February 2017 Amy Harder
In speech before employees, the new chief emphasized giving business certainty about rules
Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, spoke to employees of the agency in Washington on Tuesday PHOTO:JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS
WASHINGTON—In his first speech as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt stressed a dramatic change of priorities at the agency, stating the importance of the agency’s communication and relationship with businesses but giving few details about policy changes.
Mr. Pruitt didn’t touch on the hard-fought issues that arose during his confirmation process, including his work as Oklahoma attorney general suing the EPA and comments President Donald Trump has made about nearly eliminating the agency.
The new administrator focused instead on his general aspirations for the agency, such as giving businesses certainty regarding environmental rules and striking an appropriate balance with states when it comes to regulations.
“Regulations ought to make things regular,” said Mr. Pruitt, repeating a line he used at his confirmation hearing in January. “Those that we regulate ought to know what they can expect from us.”
That is a clear difference in message and focus from the EPA under President Barack Obama, which emphasized first what the agency was trying to protect with its regulations on clean air and water.
Mr. Pruitt’s speech at agency headquarters, which went a little over 10 minutes, was aimed at striking a balance between the administrator’s mandate from Mr. Trump to roll back Mr. Obama’s environmental regulations and persistent concerns from inside and outside the agency about that very mandate. It didn’t include questions from either media or the assembled EPA staffers in Washington. EPA employs about 15,000 people across the U.S.; thousands were able to watch the speech online.
“You can’t lead unless you listen. I seek to listen and learn and lead with you to address these issues we face as a nation,” Mr. Pruitt said.
Mr. Trump’s plans for EPA have attracted particular attention, given his stated goal of making wholesale changes at the agency. Current and former officials of the agency had publicly urged the defeat of Mr. Pruitt, saying they were concerned about his close relations with the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma. The Senate narrowly confirmed him on Friday mostly along party lines.
Mr. Pruitt’s comments Tuesday didn’t ease some critics’ concerns.