March 26, 2018
By Margaret Talbot –
One afternoon last April, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, travelled to the Harvey Mine, in Sycamore, Pennsylvania, to declare that the agency had a new direction, which he called “Back to Basics.” It was an unusual place for the nation’s chief steward of clean air, land, and water to set out a policy agenda. Consol Energy, the owner of the Harvey facility, which is part of the largest underground coal-mining complex in North America, has been fined repeatedly by the E.P.A. for violations; in 2016, it had to pay three million dollars for having discharged contaminated wastewater into the Ohio River and its tributaries. Past E.P.A. administrators have spoken of creating jobs as a welcome potential by-product of the agency’s work, especially if they are green jobs, but creating or protecting energy jobs is not supposed to be the mission—protecting human health and the environment is. As the speech that Pruitt gave at the mine demonstrated, he seems to have these priorities reversed.
Pruitt, who is forty-nine, looked cheerful, as he generally does at public appearances. (He declined my requests for an interview.) Unlike many people who have joined the chaotic Trump Administration, he seems unconflicted about his new role, his ideological and career goals fitting together as neatly as Lego blocks. The former attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt ascended politically by fighting one regulation after another. In his first year at the E.P.A., he has proposed repealing or delaying more than thirty significant environmental rules. In February, when the White House announced its intention to reduce the E.P.A.’s budget by twenty-five per cent—one of the largest cuts for any federal agency—Pruitt made no objections. His schedule is dominated by meetings and speaking engagements with representatives of the industries he regulates. He has met only a handful of times with environmental groups.