Scott Pruitt, the new head of EPA, has moved to stock the top offices of the agency with like-minded conservatives — many of them skeptics of climate change and all of them intent on rolling back environmental regulations that they see as overly intrusive and harmful to business.
Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, last month. He built a career suing the agency he now leads. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Days after the Senate confirmed him as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference and was asked about addressing a group that probably wanted to eliminate his agency.
“I think it’s justified,” he responded, to cheers. “I think people across the country look at the E.P.A. the way they look at the I.R.S.”
In the days since, Mr. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who built a career out of suing the agency he now leads, has moved to stock the top offices of the agency with like-minded conservatives — many of them skeptics of climate change and all of them intent on rolling back environmental regulations that they see as overly intrusive and harmful to business.
Mr. Pruitt has drawn heavily from the staff of his friend and fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James Inhofe, long known as Congress’s most prominent skeptic of climate science. A former Inhofe chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, will be Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff. Another former Inhofe staff member, Byron Brown, will serve as Mr. Jackson’s deputy. Andrew Wheeler, a fossil fuel lobbyist and a former Inhofe chief of staff, is a finalist to be Mr. Pruitt’s deputy, although he requires confirmation to the position by the Senate.
To friends and critics, Mr. Pruitt seems intent on building an E.P.A. leadership that is fundamentally at odds with the career officials, scientists and employees who carry out the agency’s missions. That might be a recipe for strife and gridlock at the federal agency tasked to keep safe the nation’s clean air and water while safeguarding the planet’s future.
“He’s the most different kind of E.P.A. administrator that’s ever been,” said Steve J. Milloy, a member of the E.P.A. transition team who runs the website JunkScience.com, which aims to debunk climate change. “He’s not coming in thinking E.P.A. is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Quite the opposite.”
Gina McCarthy, who headed the E.P.A. under former President Barack Obama, said she too saw Mr. Pruitt as unique. “It’s fine to have differing opinions on how to meet the mission of the agency. Many Republican administrators have had that,” she said. “But here, for the first time, I see someone who has no commitment to the mission of the agency.”
A pair of Trump campaigners from Washington State are also heading into senior positions at the E.P.A. Don Benton, a former Washington state senator who headed President Trump’s state campaign, will be the agency’s senior liaison with the White House. Douglas Ericksen, a current Washington state senator, is being considered as the regional administrator of the E.P.A.’s Pacific Northwest office.
As a state senator, Mr. Ericksen has been active in opposing efforts to pass a state-level climate change law taxing carbon pollution. Last month, he invited Tony Heller, a climate denialist (sic) who blogs under the pseudonym Steven Goddard, to address a Washington State Senate committee on the costs of climate change policy. Mr. Heller’s blog says “global warming is the biggest fraud in science history.”
“I think the reason both of these guys are being considered for this stuff is they were the only prominent elected officials in the state of Washington that were early supporters and organizers for Trump,” said Todd Donovan, a political scientist at Western Washington University. “No other state legislators were putting their necks out for Trump.”
Another transition official under consideration by Mr. Pruitt for a permanent position is David Kreutzer, a senior research fellow in energy economics and climate change at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has publicly praised the benefits of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That view stands in opposition to the broad scientific consensus that increased carbon dioxide traps heat and contributes to the dangerous warming of the planet.
The agency’s policy agenda is snapping into focus: Last week, Mr. Trump signed an executive order directing Mr. Pruitt to begin the legal process of dismantling a major Obama-era regulation aimed at increasing the federal government’s authority over rivers, streams and wetlands in order to prevent water pollution. Also last week, Mr. Pruitt ordered the agency to walk back a program on collecting data on methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells.
This week, Mr. Trump is expected to sign an executive order directing Mr. Pruitt to begin the legal process of unwinding Mr. Obama’s E.P.A. regulations aimed at curbing planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants, and Mr. Pruitt is expected to announce plans to begin to weaken an Obama-era rule mandating higher fuel economy standards.