The Dallas Morning News
Scott Pruitt’s EPA has spun out of control
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt continues to wield an ax to Obama-era environmental regulations, a ham-fisted effort that could come back to haunt consumers and the industries he’s letting off the hook.
In less than four months, Pruitt, formerly Oklahoma’s climate-change-denying attorney general, has rejected, delayed or blocked more than 30 environmental rules. And to make matters worse, he’s done it with scant input from EPA career professionals and relied on political appointees, former lobbyists and industry officials to shape policy.
So much for environmental protection in the public interest. It is natural that different EPA administrators will have different priorities, but previous ones at least demonstrated a commitment to the agency’s core mission.
Not Pruitt. He’s eviscerating Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a voluntary agreement to align states and industries behind a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Oil and gas companies are about to get a pass on plugging methane leaks from their wells, a blow against reducing greenhouse gases. Pruitt also has delayed compliance with a rule to prevent explosions and spills at chemical plants, reversed a ban on the use of a pesticide that EPA scientists and doctors link to damage of children’s nervous systems, and wants to roll back Clean Waters authority over streams and small bodies of water.
A regulatory agency is supposed to be the cop on the beat and put its public protection mission ahead of corporate profits, ideological myths about climate change and expediency. When regulators allow an industry to go Wild West, people start getting hurt and corporations lose America’s trust. Corporations soon become vulnerable to criticism by activists, whether grounded in reality or not. And when a disaster occurs, the predictable response is: Why didn’t regulators do their job?
Texas knows firsthand the hazards of lax regulation. The fertilizer explosion that virtually leveled the town of West in 2013 was ruled to have been intentionally set. Nonetheless, investigations cited numerous city, state and federal regulatory failures for contributing to the magnitude of the explosion and death toll. Likewise, hydraulic fracturing became a flash-point issue both in Texas and in other states when gas industry bad actors paid too little regard to the environmental and societal concerns.
There is room for industry’s concern about the reasonableness of environmental regulations. No matter how well-intentioned, regulations trigger compliance costs. The answer is not Pruitt’s industry-friendly overcorrection.
The EPA, like other state and federal agencies, has had its share of regulatory failures. Nonetheless, Americans should expect that regulators will try to prevent dangerous excesses whenever possible.
The energy world has a big stake in sensible, strong dependable regulations that citizens can trust. The industry would be wise to not bask in these short-term “gains” and guide the EPA back to a more sustainable policy that recognizes that regulatory laxity is a recipe for corporate irresponsibility and eventually problems for all of us.
The lessons of regulatory failures
Deepwater Horizon (2010): Offshore drilling companies in the Gulf of Mexico claimed they had adequate spill prevention and cleanup plans. They didn’t. Post-disaster reports showed that drillers cut corners and lax federal oversight and coziness with the industry insiders allowed those abuses to go unchecked. The entire industry faced delays and red tape in its wake.
West explosion (2013): Although investigators ruled the ammonium nitrate explosion that virtually leveled the town West was intentionally set, other post-disaster reports indicated that numerous city, state and federal regulatory failures contributed to the magnitude of the disaster.
Fracking: Combine decades of mistrust of the oil industry with the refusal of natural gas and oil producers to go along with even the most benign regulations on fracking, such as disclosing the contents of chemicals used in the process, and grass-roots protests ensued. Now, the industry is banned from fracking in cities and regions across the country.