Prologue: Before Scott Pruitt became Secretary of The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) he had served as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. As a leading advocate against the E.P.A. agenda, he had sued the agency over 14 times. The agency’s charter under The Clean Air Act was to regulate chemicals into the air “which may reasonably endanger public health or welfare.” In late 2006, Massachusetts with eleven other states had sued the E.P.A. for failing to establish guidelines on emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorcarbons. The states asked why the E.P. A. ,which had refused to consider greenhouse gases, thought they could ignore the law. Their suit reached the Supreme Court, and a landmark 5-4 decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens, agreed with the states. As a result of the ruling, the E.P.A. began the process of looking at the science documenting the risks of greenhouse gases, and recognized those emissions contributed to a public-safety crisis not just across the nation but the planet. The E.P.A.’s resulting “endangerment” finding was issued in 2009 and formed the basis for new standards on auto emissions in Detroit and for Obama’s Clean Power Plan issued in 2015.
Scott Pruitt. After Pruitt was appointed to lead the agency, he spoke on March 9, 2017 on CNBC about carbon dioxide and the environment, saying, “No, I would not agree it is a contributor to the global warming that we see.” He was on record, with other climate change deniers, of disagreeing with the consensus of over 95 percent of the world’s scientists. Based on years of research, they believe and assert that human activity releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is a major cause of harmful climate change and global warming.
Donald Trump who had often said during his presidential campaign, “Climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese!” knew Pruitt’s position on the subject and his record as Attorney General suing the E.P.A. Trump had met with Al Gore at Trump Tower before the Inauguration as did his daughter Ivanka, shortly before appointing Pruitt. However, Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, was the head of Breitbart News when it published, “Climate Change: The Greatest Ever Conspiracy Against The Taxpayer.” Bannon was also urging Trump to withdraw the United States from the 2016 Paris Agreement that committed 195 nations to take action against carbon dioxide pollution. The Paris Agreement was hailed as a major diplomatic achievement led by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry over months to lower greenhouse gases around the globe. At present, Trump has postponed any action on the Paris Agreement.
Pruitt’s record at E.P.A. On March 29, newspapers and TV cables showed President Trump surrounded by coal owners and miners as he handed Scott Pruitt, one of the pens he used to sign his executive order that nullified President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The miners were jubilant when Trump said, “C’mon fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?. You’re going back to work.” The order was the first step in a long and complex legal process to close hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new plants and replace them with vast new wind and solar farms. Scott Pruitt’s job was to lead the agency in this complete reversal. However, the facts were that the coal industry was in an irreversible decline because of cheaper natural gas and the tripling in capacity since 2008 of cleaner energy sources of wind and solar. The New York Times editorial on March, 29 headlines, “President Trump Risks The Planet.”
Update: coal-fired power plants. Over 250 coal plants, about half the total number in the U.S., have announced they will close or switch to cleaner fuels. A week before Trump signed his executive order, Moody’s Investor Service released a report concluding that wind power could displace up to two thirds of coal-fired power production in 15 Midwestern states. The average cost of wind power has dropped to $20 per megawatt compared with more than $30 per megawatt for electricity from many coal plants in the region.
Businesses & Cities cutting pollution. Through March, many of the 81 major corporations were signed pledges to cut pollution and improve their energy efficiency. Wal-Mart and Apple that had signed a pledge in 2015 renewed their commitment. More than 130 American cities have joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.They are expanding mass transit, increasing the energy efficiency of their buildings, installing electrical vehicle charging stations, creating bike share programs and planting trees. In April, the environmental ministers of Mexico and Canada went to San Franciso to sign a global pact drafted largely by California to lower planet warming greenhouse pollution. A group of state lawyers is preparing to fight any attempt by the federal government to weaken Calilfornia’s automobile pollution standards. Scott Pruitt has spoken out against California’s push to expand their environmental policies to the rest of the country. He said, “That’s a political agenda, hiding behind federalism. Is it federalism trying to impose your policy on other states? It seems to me that Mr. Brown ( CA governor) is being the aggressor here.”
“Pruitt’s E.P.A. is Boon to Oil and Gas” . May 21 headline New York Times. Devon Energy controls a huge gas field in Fremont County, Wyoming. In February, 2017, it was negotiating a six figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals like benzene, a known carcinogen. About five days after Scott Pruitt was sworn in as E.P.A. Secretary in February, everything changed for Devon Energy. In a letter, dated February 22, Devon wrote, “ it was reevaluating its settlement posture”. It no longer was going ahead with its extensive emissions control system and was willing to pay $25,000 penalty to end the three year old federal investigation.
Scott Pruitt, with a history of closeness to Devon Energy, was reflecting Donald Trump’s push back on regulatory rules on business to “create jobs and “allow Americans to share in the riches.” Devon became the first known admitted polluter under the Trump administration being released from a proposed environmental settlement. By May 21, The New York Times reported, “In just the last three months, with Mr. Pruitt in charge, the E.P.A. postponed a long planned rule requiring companies like Devon to retrofit drilling equipment to prevent leaks of methane gas, a major contributor to climate change
Scott Pruitt explained his priorities at the E.P.A. when he said, “I believe that we as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro- energy and jobs and pro- environment. We don’t have to choose between the two.”
Rex Tillerson. Secretary of State is considered the most important position in the president’s cabinet. When Rex Tillerson was chosen, he brought his formidable reputation as head of Exxon Mobile, the largest company in the world. It was a given that he knew about management and many assumed he would bring strength to Donald Trump’s administration. He had established Exxon Mobile across the globe and had ties with leaders of many countries, including Russia where President Putin had presented him with the Medal of Freedom. There is an area the size of Wyoming in Russia for future oil development by Exxon Mobile.
One of Rex Tillerson’s first actions was to cancel the daily press briefings held by all Secretaries of State for decades. He was also unavailable or reluctant to answer questions from members of the White House press corps after state functions. Cable TV photographers began to cover his rebuffs to veteran reporters like NBC’s Andrea Mitchell when they were ushered out of the room after he spoke at an event. When Tillerson departed for South East Asia on his first overseas trip, he took only one reporter with him on the plane. This was another break with long established policy to keep the public informed of his meetings and speeches abroad.
At home, he had held a brief informal introductory meeting with State Department members shortly after being appointed. He met them at the state department in Foggy Bottom, shaking hands with a small group who had gathered there. He spoke very briefly and promised to explore ways to make the department more efficient. On April 28, it was reported that nearly 200 state department posts that require Senate confirmation remained empty. R.C. Hammond, Tillerson’s spokesman, said in an interview that the secretary intended to begin a listening tour of the building to hear what the diplomats and civil servants had to say. Then he would turn to restructuring the department’s operations within Trump’s proposal to cut the agency budget by 31 percent that could eliminate 2,300 jobs worldwide. Only when that had begun, would he start to name his leadership team. Morale in the department was low and many senior veterans were choosing to retire after long years of service.
On Wednesday, May 3, Rex Tillerson gave his first address to the department in a large packed auditorium with standing room at the back. He gave his vision of his role as Secretary of State: The United States had been far too accommodating to allies and emerging nations. “Things had gotten out of balance.” He said that righting those imbalances wlll be the mission of the State Department as it fulfills President Trump’s promise to put “America first.” He added, “We were promoting relations. We were promoting economic activity. We were promoting trade with these emerging economies, and we just kind of lost track of how we were doing. And, as a result, things got a little out of balance.”
Tillerson paced around the stage and discussed a series of specific challenges facing the United States: North Korea, China, Russia. He offered few specifics, urging the members to help him streamline the department to deal better with the present rather than as it was during the Cold War. At the close of his address, there was strong applause. Hammond reported that Tillerson perceived his job as “touching base with our allies and partners around the world”, including in Europe, Japan, South Korea and Mexico – and hosting a meeting in the U.S. of foreign ministers fighting the Islamic State. He would work with the Trump administration on crucial issues of the day, including the NATO alliance, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and The Paris Climate Agreement. Rex Tillerson has never met with his predecessor John Kerry who was instrumental for years in developing those alliances. One would hope he would choose to do that in the months ahead.
……………………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson