Environmental organizations have made themselves hoarse calling for Scott Pruitt’s ouster from the Environmental Protection Agency over his controversial spending and personnel decisions, as well as his deregulatory agenda.
Now a number of other nonprofit outfits not usually known for environmental advocacy, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are also calling for the EPA administrator to resign or be fired.
In an advertisement running in three newspapers Wednesday, a coalition of labor and civil rights organizations joined green groups in calling for Pruitt “to resign, or be removed” from office.
“We’re probably better known for traditional civil rights issues” said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP's Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy and policy. “But in many ways we see environmental protection as an issue that falls under equal protection under the law."
“If you look at the most dangerous environmental dumps throughout our country,” he added, “they’re disproportionately in poor communities.”
In addition to the usual suspects like the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, signatories to the newspaper ad calling for Pruitt’s removal include Physicians for Social Responsibility, a doctors’ group that works on social issues; the Service Employees International Union, the nation’s largest union of healthcare workers; and Latino Victory Project, a group that trains and recruits Latino candidates for political office.
The inclusion of groups that don't strictly work on environmental issues, even though many of them lean left, is the latest sign of growing pressure for Pruitt to leave office since news reports revealed the EPA chief’s penchant for flying first-class and his rental of a $50-per-night condo in Capitol Hill from the family of an energy lobbyist.
Republicans in Congress have proven resistant so far to calling for Pruitt’s removal, and on Twitter President Trump has said he stands by his EPA administrator. "Scott is doing a great job!" Trump tweeted earlier this month.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) deferred to Trump regarding Pruitt's fate. "It’s really up to the President to decide who his team is and whether he wants to continue the EPA administrator," he told reporters Tuesday.
In response to the ad, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement “Administrator Pruitt is focused on advancing President Trump’s agenda of regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship.”
Luisa Blue, SEIU’s executive vice president, rejected the argument Pruitt and other conservatives often make that easing environmental regulations is good for jobs.
“In terms of jobs, we have to make sure they are safe,” Blue said. “If the regulations go away, what are they exposed to?"
The full-page ad is running in both the New York Post and the D.C. edition of the New York Times, both of which Trump reportedly reads, as well as The Oklahoman, the largest daily in Pruitt’s home state. Many energy industry lobbying groups have similarly sought to place ads on “Fox & Friends,” which the president is known to watch.
The spot focuses mainly on EPA policy while pointing out that Pruitt is “spending lavishly” on himself. “Pruitt has put the health of communities last, recruiting insiders to oversee the polluting industries they came from,” the ad reads. “His policies are dramatically increasing the amount of mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxics that can be dumped into our air and water, putting millions at risk.”
The ad singles out Pruitt’s decision to deny a petition to ban the agricultural use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos after the EPA’s own scientists concluded that exposure impedes brain development in infants and fetuses.
While the NAACP’s Shelton said the organization was “deeply troubled” by Pruitt's nomination to the top EPA post in 2016, he said this is the first time the civil rights group is calling for him to leave office.
Studies dating back to the 1970s show pollution from cars and coal plants chokes poor and minority communities disproportionately. Trump’s EPA has sought to relax Obama-era rules on both of those sources of smog-forming pollutants.
“He’s proven us to be more right than we ever realized,” Shelton said.
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— Drip… Pruitt upgraded his official car last year to a larger, pricier, customized SUV with bullet-resistant seat covers, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis reports. Previous EPA heads have used a Chevrolet Tahoe, but he switched to a higher-end Chevy Suburban last June. One former EPA official told The Post that Pruitt wanted the change because it was similar to the cars other Cabinet officials rode. The first year lease for the car cost $10,200.
…drip... A group of home builders in Colorado paid for Pruitt to stay at a luxury hotel during a visit to Colorado Springs for a speech. The visit came eight months after the Trump administration began working on weakening Obama-era wetlands rules, a priority for the industry. “The $409.12 hotel stay may have met federal legal requirements if EPA’s ethics officers had approved it ahead of time,” Politico reports. “But it’s likely to add to the storm of ethics controversies surrounding Pruitt.”
...drip: Bloomberg News has a few more details about Pruitt's soundproof phone booth. The four-feet-across and four-feet-deep booth had the “latest in acoustical accents, including a ventilation system designed to keep conversations from being overheard and ‘noise-lock’ panels on the walls and ceiling."
— The EPA defends itself: The agency's press office sought to defend the embattled administrator on Tuesday after a Republican chairman asked for more information about Pruitt’s use of four separate email addresses. In a statement Tuesday, Wilcox said the agency has two email addresses used by Pruitt’s staff. A third email is used by the secretary himself and a fourth was created but never used. “When we receive a FOIA request all accounts are searched before we respond,” Wilcox said in the statement.
The New York Times editorial board targeted Pruitt on Tuesday, calling Pruitt “by common consensus the worst of the ideologues and mediocrities President Trump chose to populate his cabinet,” adding that his actions have “disgraced his office and demoralized his employees.”
— Another White House energy adviser bites the dust: Mike Catanzaro, Trump’s top energy and environmental adviser, resigned from his White House post. Catanzaro was the chief White House staffer on domestic energy and environmental policy and is leaving to rejoin lobbying firm CGCN Group, per E&E News. Catanzaro helped with efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan and the Obama administration’s key water rule. White House climate adviser George David Banks resigned February after past marijuana use blocked him from getting permanent security clearance.
In leaving a White House already bereft of energy advisors, Catanzaro earned kind words from observers on both sides of the aisle:
- "Mike has done an outstanding job helping to implement the president’s ambitious environmental reform agenda. And he’s done it under difficult circumstances, amid continuing chaos in the White House," Myron Ebell, director of Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment, said in a statement.
- "The exodus of original White House staff with long energy experience like Mike Catanzaro and Dave Banks is nearly complete, though its unclear how much moderating or stabilizing influence they've had on Trump or Cabinet members like Pruitt and Zinke anyway," said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate advisor, now with the Progressive Policy Institute. "There's a sense they all want to leave before they're blamed for the potential blue-green wave election where the environment plays a role in November."
- "As one of the few grownups in the White House, Catanzaro has sometimes been the last brake on the extremists' race to unleash the polluters," said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign at the Center for Auto Safety.
— The Senate is expected to vote this week on a measure to loosen rules on ships in the Great Lakes dumping ballast water. The EPA and Coast Guard currently share management of ballast water discharges, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, but the new measure would shift authority entirely to the Coast Guard. But conservationists argue ballast water management should stay under the EPA’s authority and any change would weaken protections for the Great lakes that have been contaminated by the discharged water.
— "Slicing a million birds a year through the windmills": Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke referred to the “myth” of global warming and said oil wells would be better than wind turbines for wildlife on the radio show he hosted before coming to Washington. "I'm an advocate of wind, but there's a limit," he said, E&E News reports. "So what's better, what's worse — slicing a million birds a year through the windmills, which are permanent? Or a semi-permanent, temporary oil well that the [sage] grouse — there's no effect that I've ever seen from it."
— Fast-forward to today: Zinke said Tuesday the administration won’t lower oil and gas lease sale royalty rates “at this time,” despite a recommendation to slash them by a third from the Royalty Policy Committee. “Right now, we can maintain higher royalties from our offshore waters without compromising the record production and record exports our nation is experiencing,” Zinke said in a statement.
— "I’m a geologist:" Zinke called himself a “geologist” in defense of his decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. It's hardly the only time: The secretary has referred to himself as a geologist at least 40 times in public, including under oath before Congress. While Zinke has a bachelor's degree in geology, he has never had a job as a geologist, CNN reports.
Interior's press office responded to the CNN report with this: "Ryan Zinke graduated with honors with a B.S. in Geology. His intended career path was underwater geology - and he had college jobs to support that career. Upon graduation he was recruited to be an officer in the US Navy SEALs."
— Is he running? A conservative political group ran a campaign-style TV ad featuring Zinke in Washington, adding to the ongoing speculation that the secretary has higher political aspirations. “The ad features sweeping views of several national parks and a close-up of a smiling Zinke, and it calls on viewers to phone their senator in support of the interior secretary’s proposal for tackling the park system’s estimated $12 billion maintenance backlog,” HuffPost reports.
— For once, the Trump team defends an Obama-era decision: The Trump administration defended an underwater monument off the coast of New England that was put in place by former president Barack Obama, calling on a judge to dismiss a lawsuit from fishing groups looking to get rid of it, per the AP. The Commerce Department’s defense of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument comes as the federal government reviews the monument as part of its overall review of monuments established under past presidents.
— Corn wars: A bipartisan group of senators from farm states accused Pruitt of violating the renewable fuel law as well as Trump’s commitment to the national ethanol mandate. “We are writing to you regarding the actions the Environmental Protection Agency has taken to undermine commitments President Trump made on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to our constituents,” reads the letter, per the Washington Examiner. “Recent reports indicate dozens of small refiner waivers have been secretly granted to large, multibillion-dollar companies under the guise of the small refinery hardship exemption provision."
The letter was signed by Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa,) Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), John Thune (R-S.D) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
— Not just coastal cities: The city of Boulder, Boulder County and San Miguel County in Colorado announced a lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Suncor for “reckless actions and damages” regarding global warming, per the Daily Camera. The latest lawsuit is the 10th in the country against fossil fuel corporations, which until this point mostly came from coastal cities like New York and Oakland facing sea-level rise. The suit names several categories of "damages and losses," including drought, wildfires and pine beetle infestation. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association called the move a “political stunt.”
— Meanwhile, in Virginia: A new study from the Natural Resources Defense Council on climate change in Virginia found various climate events, such as increased heat waves, more coastal flooding and prolonged allergy seasons will lead to a jump in risks of heat-related illnesses, more emergency medical services and asthma attacks, The Post’s Patricia Sullivan reports. “Climate change is already affecting the health of Virginians, and it’s getting worse,” said Juanita Constible, the lead author of the NRDC report.
— Time to recharge: Volkswagen unit Electrify American said it has selected suppliers to install more than 2,000 high-speech electric vehicle chargers in the United States by the end of 2019, per Reuters. There will be chargers installed at 484 charging stations nationwide that will deliver 20 miles of range per one minute of charge, which is seven times faster than current available chargers.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the U.S. Forest Service 2019 budget.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on protecting groundwater.
- Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing on the budget estimates for 2019 for the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation.
- The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy holds a webinar on Thursday.
- The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies holds an event on the environmental risks of oil and gas retrieval on Thursday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on rural energy challenges and opportunities on Thursday.
- Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy’s annual energy summit is on Thursday.
- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds a hearing on Thursday.
— River replication: Scientists are working on new strategies for combating erosion on the Louisiana coastline, and efforts include a new 10,000-square-foot replica of the lower Mississippi River, per the Associated Press. The model is expected to help study the river and how sediment can be used to fight erosion.