And they should have seen it coming.
By Jared Keller
Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower on December 7th, 2016, in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
On Monday, environmental activists were treated to something of an early Christmas miracle.
After months of sneering at the scientific evidence of climate change — from alleging that it was a hoax dreamed up by the Chinese, to vowing to nix the historic Paris climate accords — President-elect Donald Trump held an unusual meeting this week with one of climate change’s biggest most vocal advocates: former Vice President Al Gore. Invited by Trump’s eldest daughter and aspiring “climate czar” Ivanka, the New York Timesreported that Gore left Trump Tower “project[ing] optimism,” calling his conversation with the president-elect “lengthy and very productive,” marked by a “sincere search for areas of common ground.”
Two days later, the other shoe dropped: Reuters reported Wednesday that Trump will appoint Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a longtime fossil fuel industry ally and critic of federal regulation, to serve as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. It is the culmination of years of anti-environmental, anti-regulatory rhetoric from Trump, and it appears that Gore’s conversation with Trump on the impact of climate change is not “to be continued” after all.
Pruitt’s role as a mouthpiece for fossil fuel companies is well-documented. In 2014, the New York Times published 84 pages of a 2011 correspondence between Pruitt and Oklahoma oil-and-gas conglomerate Devon Energy in which the company literally put words in the then-attorney general’s mouth. Devon’s lawyers authored a letter from Pruitt to the EPA railing against the agency’s natural gas drilling emissions estimates.
The New York Times investigation revealed attorneys general in more than a dozen states colluding with energy companies in exchange for political campaign contributions, which the Times called an “unprecedented, secretive alliance … with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda.”
Pruitt’s role as a mouthpiece for fossil fuel companies is well-documented.
It’s worth noting that Pruitt has raked in nearly $325,000 in donations from energy companies since becoming Oklahoma AG, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. During that time, Pruitt sent similar letters not just to the EPA, but also to the Department of the Interior and even President Barack Obama, all critical of federal regulations on emissions.
Pruitt’s role acting on behalf of energy companies came to a head in February after the Supreme Court halted the enforcement of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, his administration’s signature environmental initiative, in response to a lawsuit from two dozens states and several industry groups led by none other than Pruitt.
As the New York Timespoints out, the Supreme Court’s stay means that the Obama administration’s political leverage in the historic Paris accord has all but evaporated until the next president enters the White House or any ongoing legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan — like those leveled by Pruitt and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — settle in court. It should come as no surprise, then, the energy companies that Pruitt ostensibly regulates often join with him as plaintiffs against the Obama administration, the Times reports. For years, Pruitt has set the stage for a rollback of climate progress under the Obama administration — with this appointment, he’ll basically be coming to Washington for a slam dunk.
Environmentalists who were satiated by the sight of Gore at the White House just got trolled, hard. And they should have seen the signs. Just consider Trump’s appointment of Myron Ebell — director of environmental and energy policy at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute (which once received “considerable funding” from ExxonMobil, per the Washington Post)—to oversee the transition of the EPA.
Also consider a Wall Street Journalreport from earlier this month revealing that acclaimed billionaire investor Carl Icahn, also a longtime critic of EPA regulations (and owner of a controlling stake in CVR Energy, which stands to lose millions from them), had the president-elect’s ear when it came to filling the agency’s top spot.
Then again, there might be some reason to still hold on to a glimmer of hope. Trump did acknowledge as recently as two weeks ago that some “connectivity” between human activity and climate change exists, and his denials on the matter certainly softened during the closing few months of the presidential campaign, a big step up from his past rhetoric.
Incoming first daughter Ivanka, who engineered the Gore meeting and will presumably have as much of a direct line to Trump’s ear as anyone, could potentially temper her father’s more industry-friendly jeremiads on the issue. Given the “steadying hand” of his inner family circle, perhaps Gore’s Ivanka-inspired appearance at Trump Tower does signal a potential avenue for climate activists who will presumably end up locked out of the traditional bureaucratic channels at the EPA under the Trump administration.
Then again, Trump did run a campaign based on essentially toying with the country’s political and media establishment — and he won the White House doing it. The bait-and-switch on climate change in the last few days may not signal anything substantive about his administration’s environmental policy; it may just mean that, for Trump, the fun’s just beginning.