A man named Scott Pruitt received some exciting news last week: Donald Trump has chosen him to “lead” the Environmental Protection Agency.
If you were the attorney general of Oklahoma, you’d be thrilled to go to Washington, D.C. – and not just for the opportunity to gut a federal agency that you despise.
A bonus benefit of leaving that part of the Midwest is getting away from the many earthquakes caused by oil and natural gas operations. These days the only seismic activity on Pennsylvania Avenue is nongeological.
Up until 2009, Oklahoma was averaging about two earthquakes a year that exceeded 3.0 on the Richter scale. In 2015, the state experienced 907 quakes measuring 3.0 or higher.
It’s now the “induced” earthquake capital of the continent, thanks to the industry for which Pruitt proudly shills.
The outbreak is being caused by massive deep-well injections of salty wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations, including fracking. Hundreds of billions of gallons are shot underground using high pressure, destabilizing the core rock layers.
Not being imbeciles, Oklahomans have made the connection between the spread of subterranean disposal wells and the quakes.
Last month, residents of Pawnee filed a lawsuit against 27 energy companies seeking damages for a 5.8 temblor that throttled the town.
The oil and gas industry hasn’t publicly admitted responsibility, saying the science is inconclusive.
It’s the same line Pruitt uses when questioning the reality of climate change, although he hasn’t gone as overboard as Trump, who called it a “hoax” perpetrated by China.
On both issues, scientists are in solid agreement. A 45,000 percent jump in earthquakes during a six-year period is not natural in Oklahoma or any state, just as the rapid melting of the earth’s glaciers isn’t natural.
These are man-made cataclysms, and Pruitt is the ideal man to deny it.
As Oklahoma’s top legal officer, he has made a crusade of suing the EPA to help energy companies avoid regulations on how much arsenic, mercury and other toxins they dump into the environment.
Pruitt made a deal with other Republican attorney generals to sue the Obama administration over its climate rules, even before the rules had been written. That lawsuit is still in federal court.
It’s hardly shocking that an Oklahoma politician would be a tool of the energy industry, a huge engine for that state’s economy. However, Pruitt’s devotion is exceptionally slavish.
In 2011, he fired off a stern letter to the EPA complaining that U.S. regulators had overestimated the amount of air pollutants being emitted during the drilling of natural gas wells.
Pruitt’s three-page letter was printed on official stationery and bore his signature, giving the impression that he actually wrote it. He didn’t.
The letter was composed by attorneys for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas exploration companies, and delivered to Pruitt’s office by Devon’s top lobbyist.
Pruitt’s staff made a couple of minor word changes and then sent it to the EPA, prompting a grateful email from the energy firm’s lobbyist: “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”
That wasn’t an isolated incident.
The New York Times found that energy lobbyists drafted other letters that Pruitt sent under his own name to the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and even President Obama.
Pruitt, who has a law degree, knows how to write. Evidently he prefers to let Big Oil put the words in his mouth, and on paper. The payback has been a gusher of campaign donations.
Now he’s been selected to shrink and enfeeble the EPA, which has existed since 1970. The president who signed the agency into law was Richard Nixon, a Republican with no burning passion for environmental causes.
Still there was a bipartisan understanding in Washington that most Americans believed government ought to do something about pollution. They wanted clean air and clean water, whether they lived in Flint, Mich., or Everglades City, Fla.
Pruitt says he’ll be faithful to that mission, which has historically conflicted with the practices of the industry that owns his soul.
It would be more earthshaking than the all quakes back in his home state if Pruitt’s moral fault line suddenly shifted, and he morphed into someone who put the public good ahead of his own fevered loyalty to the energy companies.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.