By Chris White
President Donald Trump accepted Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation letter Thursday, but the embattled agency chief managed to complete a large chunk of the president’s climate agenda before leaving.
Trump pegged Pruitt to lead the agency in February 2017 as the president sought to nix huge swaths of former President Barack Obama’s regulations. The former Oklahoma attorney general was famous for filing nearly a dozen lawsuits against Obama’s EPA.
Pruitt cited death threats and the seemingly never-ending reports about his flight travels and excessive spending for his decision to resign. Trump praised his embattled EPA head in a tweet Thursday, telling his followers that “Pruitt has done an outstanding job.”
Here is a list of five of Pruitt’s most significant accomplishments during his time manning the helm at the EPA.
Convincing Trump To Ditch The Paris Climate Agreement
Pruitt was instrumental in convincing Trump to permanently “cancel” the Paris Agreement, a non-binding agreement Obama signed in 2015 pledging to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The White House was split on the issue, even as the president issued executive orders peeling away Obama-era global warming regulations.
Trump said the Obama administration poorly negotiated the accord and failed to put American workers first while hashing out the agreement’s details. White House aides said the administration would withdraw from the Paris accord using the process laid out in the agreement.
The pro-Paris contingent within the White House argued Trump should stay in the agreement for diplomatic reasons. It also said since the Paris Agreement was not legally binding, it would have no effect on Trump’s domestic agenda — a point contested by Paris opponents. But Pruitt and former White House adviser Stephen Bannon were two of the voices that ultimately convinced Trump to pull the trigger.
Rolling Back The Clean Power Plan And Other Obama-Era Rules
Pruitt announced in October 2017 that the Trump administration would begin the process of repealing one of Obama’s signature environmental regulations: the Clean Power Plan.
Obama first proposed enacting the CPP in 2014 and finalized in 2015 — the rule was designed to limit the amount of greenhouse gases power plants can emit. The plan aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It was a centerpiece of what Obama critics referred to as his “war on coal.”
Undoing the rule, which Obama argued was needed to fulfill the U.S.’ Paris Agreement pledge, will save Americans $33 billion in compliance costs, despite the previous administration claiming it would only cost $8.4 billion and millions through public health benefits.
Pruitt moved to undo, delay or block more than 30 environmental regulations during the first few months of his tenure. The rollbacks were more than any other administrator in the agency’s 47-year history over such a short period of time, according to a February 2017 report from The New York Times.
Nixing Obama’s Waters Of The United States (WOTUS) Rule
The Clean Water Rule, or WOTUS, was enacted in 2015 to clarify which bodies of water and wetlands are designated for federal protection. The regulation was met with immediate backlash as critics pointed to ambiguity in the rule opening the door for possible government overreach.
Pruitt announced on June 27, 2017, that the Trump administration would begin repealing the Obama-era rule, promising to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to farmers and energy providers.
The EPA began its repeal of WOTUS in July to reconstruct the rule in a manner consistent with former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in the 2006 Rapanos v. U.S. case. The now-deceased jurist decided Obama’s regulation was vague and affected nearly every waterway in the country. Obama argued the rule was necessary to protect water quality and end the confusion over jurisdiction in the wake of two Supreme Court cases. Environmentalists echoed that view.
Rewrote And Dramatically Reduced Obama’s Fuel Emission Standards
The Obama administration adopted stringent new vehicle emissions standards in 2012, most of which would have applied to vehicles made between 2022 and 2025. The standards would have required automakers to nearly double their vehicles’ average fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon.
The new emissions standards were a component of Obama’s pledge to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Pruitt presided over the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s re-drafting of the mileage standards. The move ignited a fight with California, a state with a waiver to set its own car regulations. State officials vowed to keep intact Obama’s tougher regulations — Pruitt expressed interest in removing California’s waiver.
Refashioned EPA Into An Agency Dedicated To Protecting Public Health
Pruitt expressed concerns that the EPA had swayed for years away from its initial mission: protecting public health. The agency adopted a new strategy of saving the earth from global warming, he’s argued, instead of assuring Americans have access to clean drinking water.
“Everyone looks at the Obama administration as being the environmental savior. Really? He was the environmental savior?” Pruitt said during a September 2017 interview before rattling off a list of examples where Obama’s EPA stumbled on environmental matters.
“Well, he left us with more Superfund sites than when he came in,” he said. “He had Gold King [the 2015 mine wastewater spill] and Flint, Michigan [drinking water crisis]. He tried to regulate CO2 twice and flunked twice. Struck out. So what’s so great about that record? I don’t know.”
Pruitt was referring to toxic waste sites folded into the government’s Superfund program, which is intended to clean the most dangerous and polluted places in the U.S. The agency has either been unable or unwilling to decontaminate many of the program’s 1,300 locations, allowing pollution to fester.
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