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Karen Telleen-Lawton: Scott Pruitt: Fox Guarding Hen House

I cringe whenever I read the name Scott Pruitt, which is too bad since I’m quite fond of my brother-in-law Scott, as well as Scott Tissues.

Scott Pruitt is the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose charge is to ensure clean air, water and land for U.S. citizens. This administration’s EPA administrator seems proud to be the fox guarding the hen house.

In his first year as EPA chief, Pruitt proposed repealing or delaying more than 30 significant environmental rules, according to The New Yorker. Pruitt didn’t even object when the White House announced one of the largest cuts for any federal agency: 25 percent.

In an agency necessarily driven by science, the EPA chief is skeptical of the scientific consensus that climate change is mainly due to human activity. He joined the president at the White House when Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.

This bad-dream-come-true is especially difficult for William Ruckelshaus, the agency’s first administrator. He served under two presidents: Richard Nixon, who established the EPA in 1970, and Ronald Reagan.

Ruckelshaus has commented: “My principal concern is that Pruitt and the people he’s hired to work with him don’t fundamentally agree with the mission of the agency.”

Ruckelshaus goes on to explain, “The environment is something you have to stay everlastingly at. Or it gets worse again.”

In a typical move, Pruitt proposed the repeal last November of a Clean Air Act emissions standard on a class of heavy-duty trucks combining new cabs and chassis with old engines.

These “gliders” represent a small percentage of the heavy-duty truck fleet but, emit an enormous share of old-fashioned pollution. EPA scientists estimate 1,600 deaths annually are attributable to glider pollution.

December’s public hearing about the proposed change naturally drew environmental and public-health groups. What made the hearing stunning was the attendance supporting the regulation of Volvo Group NA (which makes Volvo and Mack trucks) and the American Trucking Association.

Susan Alt, Volvo North America’s vice-president of public affairs, testified that the proposed repeal “makes a mockery of the massive investments we’ve made to develop low-emission-compliant technology.”

Bob Nuss, the American Trucking Association’s 2017 Truck Dealer of the Year, said, “I told them, ‘Maybe it’s only five per cent of the trucks, but how would we all feel if five per cent of the trucks didn’t have to stop for a school bus or obey the speed limit?’

"Sneaking around, avoiding emissions compliance, filling the air with soot — it’s just not right.”

Pruitt’s meeting schedule was secret until he succumbed to dozens of government transparency lawsuits. Now his online calendar reveals his meetings are overwhelmingly with industry representatives. Environmental groups are all but shunned.

William Reilly, the EPA administrator under President George H.W. Bush, objects to this.

Reilly recalls: “I had a good reputation with industry. I was on the board of DuPont after EPA. But you’re supposed to meet with everybody ... Industry is unlikely to be the source of information about developing environmental problems.”

The one area Pruitt supports is Superfunds. Yet here his priorities for action look like a lesson in political favoritism. Orange County’s North Basin site, contaminated by industrial factories, metal processing businesses and dry-cleaning facilities, is a case in point.

The EPA assigned the North Basin site a score of 50 on its zero-to-100 hazard ranking system. But soon after a meeting between Pruitt and the Orange County Water District, arranged by conservative radio and TV host Hugh Hewitt, the site got fast-tracked.

A Freedom of Information Act request for documentation of the task force’s deliberations was told none had been found. The fox appears to be guarding all hen houses, except those belonging to special friends.

Pruitt’s practice is to insulate himself from view — and from opposing views. He is purposefully undoing decades of environmental progress that have made our nation one of the safest and healthiest places to live and do business.

Under Pruitt’s anti-stewardship, the EPA may find itself a languishing Superfund site.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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