December 9, 2016

Choice of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator Puts Focus on Energy Independence

Dimitrios J. Karakitsos

The selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signals President-Elect Donald Trump's intention to follow through on his campaign promise to make America energy independent. Trump's energy plan calls for unleashing "$50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves." Specifically, the President-Elect plans to "end the war on coal" and "conduct a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama Administration" as well as open onshore and offshore leasing of federal lands. Trump has promised to "eliminate the highly contested 'Waters of the U.S.' rule … scrap the $5 trillion Obama-Clinton Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan, and prevent these unilateral plans from increasing monthly electric bills by double digits without any measurable effect on Earth's climate."

Since being elected as Oklahoma's attorney general in 2010, Pruitt has been a leader in the fight against the EPA and President Obama's environmental agenda, serving for two years as president of the Republican Attorneys General Association. On climate change, Pruitt has challenged the Clean Power Plan on grounds of the EPA overreaching its statutory authority, joining with 26 other states in challenging the rule's legality. In an op-ed earlier this year, Pruitt expressed some skepticism on climate change, arguing "about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind." It is also noteworthy that Pruitt joined a coalition of states and other challengers in a failed attempt to kill EPA's "endangerment finding," the 2009 scientific declaration that climate change poses a threat to public health and welfare. This has been the basis for a number of the EPA's actions over the past eight years, and Pruitt's nomination could signal Trump's intention to revisit the underlying legal basis of these regulations.

In addition to challenging the EPA's climate agenda, Pruitt has challenged or criticized a number of other actions, including the aforementioned Waters of the U.S. rule, EPA regulations on emissions of methane from the oil and gas sector, and the Renewable Fuel Standard. Pruitt has also long been a champion of states' rights, objecting to Washington's "one-size-fits-all strategy" and believing that states are more appropriate regulators of local industries, including domestic oil and natural gas production.

Representing Oklahoma, one of the largest energy-producing states in the country, Pruitt's views on energy seem to be consistent with Trump's position "to make full use of our domestic energy sources," including traditional and renewable sources of fuel. As attorney general, Pruitt also supported a number of energy infrastructure projects, including filing court briefs in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the southern portion of which traveled through Oklahoma.

Pruitt has been praised by strong supporters of the oil and natural gas industries, including Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the longtime leader of the Environment and Public Works Committee who lauded Pruitt as "a leader and a partner on environmental issues for many years." Pruitt is also reportedly supported by Trump energy advisor Harold Hamm, the chairman and CEO of Continental Resources.

Note about the author: Holland & Knight Partner Dimitrios Karakitsos served on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee since 2009, and, most recently, as senior counsel for the Republican Majority, until October of 2016 when he joined the firm.

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