Unexamined Premises

Don't Let the Left Take Scott Pruitt's Scalp

Scott Pruitt

Aside from the propitiatory human sacrifice to the gods of radical feminism known as abortion, there is no pagan totem more worshiped on the Left than the environment. Since the original Earth Day back in 1970, the idea that Mother Gaia is under constant attack by rapacious human beings has become an article of faith, and no amount of ameliorative activity since will suffice to placate them. Indeed, as the environment has been substantially cleaned up, their zealotry has only increased. For the environmental Left, the Hudson is always polluted, the forests are always vanishing, and the Cuyahoga River is always on fire.

A case in point is the media-fueled targeting of “embattled” EPA chief Scott Pruitt who, in a constantly revolving cast of villains in the Trump administration, has latterly emerged as Public Enemy No. 1, always excepting the president himself. Having set their caps to get Pruitt’s scalp, the media has been targeting him with both sneers and smears in a host of stories questioning his ethics and his need for heightened security measures when he travels. This story is typical:

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s concern with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes. Altogether, the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member full-time detail that is more than three times the size of his predecessor’s part-time security contingent.

New details in Pruitt’s expansive spending for security and travel emerged from agency sources and documents reviewed by The Associated Press. They come as the embattled EPA leader fends off allegations of profligate spending and ethical missteps that have imperiled his job.

Shortly after arriving in Washington, Pruitt demoted the career staff member heading his security detail and replaced him with EPA Senior Special Agent Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who operates a private security company. An EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt’s security spending says Perrotta oversaw a rapid expansion of the EPA chief’s security detail to accommodate guarding him day and night, even on family vacations and when Pruitt was home in Oklahoma. The EPA official spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Perrotta also signed off on new procedures that let Pruitt fly first-class on commercial airliners, with the security chief typically sitting next to him with other security staff farther back in the plane. Pruitt’s premium status gave him and his security chief access to VIP airport lounges. The EPA official said there are legitimate concerns about Pruitt’s safety, given public opposition to his rollbacks of anti-pollution measures.

But Pruitt’s ambitious domestic and international travel led to rapidly escalating costs, with the security detail racking up so much overtime that many hit annual salary caps of about $160,000. The demands of providing 24-hour coverage even meant taking some investigators away from field work, such as when Pruitt traveled to California for a family vacation.

Left unasked in this AP story is whether Pruitt has need of greater security measures — instead, the idea is to smear him as a typically greedy Republican living high off the taxpayer hog. But then comes this:

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has faced an “unprecedented” number of death threats, according to an agency spokesman. His statement follows reports Pruitt has spent millions on security despite no proof his life was in danger. “According to EPA’s Assistant Inspector General, Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and his family,” agency spokesman Jahan Wilcox said late Friday. “Americans should all agree that members of the president’s Cabinet should be kept safe from these violent threats.” The statement was obtained Saturday by Fox News and included a list of several published reports about such incidents.

President Trump weighed in yesterday:

But the real reason Pruitt is “embattled” has nothing to do with the level of his security spending or any of the other picayune ethical issues that have been flung at him. Instead, it’s a Democrat/Media assault on the way he’s doing his job. As Pruitt sees it, his task is to — gasp! — actually roll back some of the rogue agency’s more stringent and economically counter-productive regulations, and to restore  balance to the equation of environmental stewardship vs. economic progress.

As Mollie Hemingway notes in The Federalist:

After Donald Trump, the individual in DC with the biggest target on his back is Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. When he was attorney general of Oklahoma, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times to get the powerful regulatory agency to stay within its legal authority. His nomination was deeply concerning to radical environmentalists inside and outside the media. As a result, he and his team have been under a microscope since even before his confirmation in early 2017.

Well-funded environmental groups, many with former EPA staffers, deluge the agency with FOIA requests to catch someone in a scandal. Unlike how they covered Obama-era EPA administrators, media outlets constantly request information about everything Pruitt does, from his schedule to his travel particulars. Whipped-up partisans have made unprecedented numbers of death threats against him and his family. Powerful liberals opine against him.

Pruitt is not some anti-environmentalist but someone who wants the EPA to do what Congress charges it with doing to improve the nation’s environment. So he awarded $100 million to upgrade drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and began an effort to eradicate lead poisoning from drinking water. He committed additional funds to deal with the EPA’s botching of the Gold King Mine release that polluted Colorado and Utah.

And that’s precisely what enrages the Left so much. Today’s New York Times lays out what’s at stake:

As ethical questions threaten the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, President Trump has defended him with a persuasive conservative argument: Mr. Pruitt is doing a great job at what he was hired to do, roll back regulations.

But legal experts and White House officials say that in Mr. Pruitt’s haste to undo government rules and in his eagerness to hold high-profile political events promoting his agenda, he has often been less than rigorous in following important procedures, leading to poorly crafted legal efforts that risk being struck down in court.

The result, they say, is that the rollbacks, intended to fulfill one of the president’s central campaign pledges, may ultimately be undercut or reversed. “In their rush to get things done, they’re failing to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. And they’re starting to stumble over a lot of trip wires,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. “They’re producing a lot of short, poorly crafted rulemakings that are not likely to hold up in court.”

When the first person quoted is a Harvard “environmental law” professor, you know which way the story’s going. And, in fact, the report is largely dedicated to a typically Leftist insistence on petty legalisms, as if they collectively outweigh the legitimacy of what Pruitt is trying to do. For instance:

One of the chief examples cited by Mr. Pruitt’s critics came this week when the E.P.A. filed its legal justification for what is arguably the largest rollback of an environmental rule in the Trump administration: the proposed undoing of an Obama-era regulation aimed at cutting pollution of planet-warming greenhouse gases from vehicle tailpipes.

Mr. Pruitt made his case for the rollback in a 38-page document filed on Tuesday that, experts say, was devoid of the kind of supporting legal, scientific and technical data that courts have shown they expect to see when considering challenges to regulatory changes.

“There’s an incredible lack of numbers,” said James McCargar, a former senior policy analyst at the E.P.A. who worked on vehicle emissions programs and remains in close touch with career staffers who work on those programs. “If this gets challenged in court, I just don’t see how they provide anything that gives a technical justification to undo the rule.”

The rules Mr. Pruitt is targeting would require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of passenger vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Automakers have argued the rule is onerous, forcing them to invest heavily in building hybrid and electric vehicles.

As part of the process, Mr. Pruitt filed the 38-page document, which is meant to supply the government’s legal justification for rolling back the rule. About half the document consists of quotations from automakers laying out their objections to the rule. By comparison, the Obama administration’s 1,217-page document justifying its implementation of the regulation included technical, scientific and economic analyses justifying the rule.

So here we are: like Gulliver, the Trump administration is being tied down by a million Lilliputians who seek to bind its authority in order to preserve their own misuse of the EPA and to continue the agency’s mission creep until it controls nearly every aspect of economic activity in the country in the name of the sacred snail darter.

Are we going to stand on principle — that with a new administration comes new rules — or let them impose their quasi-theocratic dogma on us forever? If they get Pruitt’s scalp, they won’t stop there. So the time to stop them is now.