After months of controversies, scandals and debate about his role as the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt finally submitted his resignation to President Donal Trump. What’s going to happen thereafter remains to be seen.
Scott Pruitt was designated head of the EPA in February 2017. During his year at the EPA implement (or at least tried to implement) a number of environmental regulatory rollbacks. As a noted climate change sceptic he also strongly supported the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, playing an important role in Trump’s decision.
The decision regarding the participation or not o the US in the Paris Agreement goes well beyond Mr. Pruitt responsibilities and authority, and there are many important voices firmly against this decision, and in any case the earliest effective date the US could withdraw from the agreement is November 2020. But the crucial issue remain: how can the EPA number one person be a climate change sceptic and favour the withdrawal of the country from the most important climate/environmental agreement ever achieved by human kind?
Regarding the regulatory aspects, which more strictly relate to the EPA competences, the Environmental and Energy Law Program of the Harvard Law School (HLS) is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump Administration. The two following are some of the most interesting and controversial, but a full long list can be found on the HLS dedicated website.
- The proposed repealing of the Clean Power Plan, introduced in 2015 with the Obama Administration to set greenhouse gas (GHG) emission limits to the US power plants, in order to lower emissions from the power sector.
- The amendments to the Oil and Natural Gas Sector Emission Standards , leading 15 states and the City of Chicago to take the EPA in court because the Agency didn’t properly regulate the methane emissions coming from existing oil and gas operations.
Last April Scott Pruitt’s EPA released another much debated announcement, regarding the GHG Emissions Standards for Cars and Light Trucks, since considered too ambitious.
These are just few of the EPA’s (tentative) measures that in the last year and a half fanned the flames of the discussion over the existing conflict of interests between Pruitt’s role and his linkages with the energy industry, as well as over his aim of weakening the Agency. In this context Pruitt didn’t help himself with his “ethical” behaviour …
But if the end of Pruitt was written in stars, and his resignation was probably ordered by the White House itself, what now scares most the more environmentally concerned stakeholders is another person: Andrew Wheeler, who is now EPA’s acting administrator, and indicted for being a (former) energy (read: coal) lobbyist. Whit his longer experience at the Agency and in environmental regulation he could be the right person to pursue the Trump Administration de-regulation targets, taking care of the ongoing policy battles that his precursor started.
Wheeler recently stated, when directly asked by the Washington Post, “I do believe climate change is real. I do believe that people have an impact on the climate”, showing some knowledge and education in the climate change field. But in the same interview he clearly stated that is going to follow Pruitt’s directions, and to completely align his mandate with Trump’s energy/environmental policy.
To sum up, this is set to remain a very interesting (political) issue to follow, and it will take some years to see the final result of Trump’s policies on the US environmental regulations.