If environmentalists were to sketch out the government official of their nightmares, it would likely look much like Scott Pruitt. The Oklahoma attorney general has been a raucous supporter of fossil fuel companies and repeatedly sought to hobble the public health regulations he will soon be responsible for as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Pruitt, 48, grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, and found his niche in constitutional and employment law. A Republican, he was elected attorney general of Oklahoma in 2010 after a spell as a state senator. Since 2002, Pruitt has received more than $300,000 in contributions from the fossil fuel industry and in 2014 even allowed Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas firm, to write a three-page complaint to the EPA on his letterhead.
Pruitt has sued the EPA, the agency he is now set to lead, multiple times over what he considers to be unwarranted meddling by the federal government. He has targeted regulations that limit air pollution haze in national parks, methane leaks from drilling, and mercury and arsenic seeping from power plants.
The attorney general even tried to strip protections from the lesser prairie chicken, a threatened bird, because it presented a feathered barrier to oil and gas drilling. Oklahoma has experienced a huge increase in earthquakes due to a boom in drilling over the past decade.
Oklahoma was one of the first states to rebel against the clean power plan, Barack Obama’s centerpiece policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A total of 27 states have joined court action against the plan, which would limit emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt has called the plan “unlawful and overreaching” and painted it as ruinous for the ailing coal industry. His appointment as EPA administrator will likely involve tearing up the central planks of Obama’s climate legacy.
Like many elected Republicans, Pruitt has questioned the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is spurred by human activity. “That debate is far from settled,” he wrote in May.
“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
Pruitt has spoken darkly of a “climate change agenda” that threatens the economy and even free speech. He has backed ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, in its battle with attorneys general from New York and Massachusetts. The east coast states are investigating Exxon over whether it misled investors by spending years obscuring the risks posed by climate change.
The EPA, which is charged with reducing emissions and protecting clean air and water, faces being led by someone who doesn’t believe in its core functions. After being nominated by Donald Trump, Pruitt said: “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”
Trump said Pruitt is “highly respected” and will counter the EPA’s “anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs”. The president-elect has previously threatened to reduce the EPA to “tidbits”.
Green groups have called Pruitt a “puppet” of the fossil fuel industry and a public health menace. “Mr Trump has just declared war on our lungs,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.
When he is not battling the agency he has been appointed to run, Pruitt enjoys spending time with his wife and two children and watching baseball. Between 2004 and 2010 he was the managing general partner of the Oklahoma Redhawks, a minor league baseball team.