Scott Pruitt: How a climate denier who has tried to sue the Environmental Protection Agency ended up running it

The resolutely pro-life Oklahoma Attorney General is a keen advocate for bible distribution in schools and has fought against abortion, transgender rights and workers rights 

Maya Oppenheim
Thursday 08 December 2016 13:06 GMT
Pruitt filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the position that the owners of privately held companies need not provide their employees with birth control - if it goes against their religious convictions
Pruitt filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the position that the owners of privately held companies need not provide their employees with birth control - if it goes against their religious convictions

Handpicking someone to lead an organisation they have dedicated much of their career to bitterly opposing might not sound like the most sensible, or indeed logical idea, but in the mind of Donald Trump it somehow made sense. Scott Pruitt may have previously been an enemy of the Environmental Protection Agency, but now he is its head.

Mr Pruitt, who is the Attorney General of the oil and gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, has been ardently dedicated to pushing against Barak Obama’s efforts to address climate change. The Republican is also a climate change denier. To put this into context, he has said the debate on climate change is “far from settled” and joined a coalition of state attorney generals in suing the agency’s Clean Power Plan - the key Obama-era policy brought in to try and reduce US greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Unsurprisingly, his appointment has been met with fury and consternation from environmentalists and jubilation from some mining and oil companies. In the wider political sphere, it has also shocked many because, despite the fact Mr Trump previously claimed climate change was a “hoax” dreamt up by the Chinese, at a recent meeting at the New York Times he appeared to backtrack on his stance.

Mr Trump has said there was “some connectivity” between humans and climate change and he would keep “an open mind” when looking at the Paris climate accord. His decision to appoint Mr Pruitt has not been seen as testimony of his “open mind” by anyone who believes climate change is real.

But who is the 48-year-old Kentucky native Mr Trump’s team insists has a “good record” to have gained this high-profile appointment, and what exactly is his track record?

He was educated at a small, private Christian liberal arts college

Born in Danville, Kentucky in 1968, he went to Georgetown College - a small, private Christian liberal arts college. Graduating with a degree in Political Science and Communications, he then set off for Tulsa in Oklahoma where he attended the University of Tulsa to study the law. He now lives in Oklahoma alongside his wife, Marlyn. They have been married 24 years and have two children, McKenna and Cade.

He is seen as 'puppet' of the fossil fuel industry

If you were in any doubt of Mr Pruitt's opposition to the very agency he will be heading, his LinkedIn page says it all. On his profile, he boasts of being “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda”. He is also a big dog in the conservative movement that has pushed back against Mr Obama’s agenda on climate change.

Crucially, Mr Pruitt's appointment also throws up questions about the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline - a $3.8 billion oil and gas project that was denied access over the weekend to dig under the Missouri River which is close to the reservation of the Native American Sioux tribe.

Greenpeace warns the appointment of Mr Pruitt puts the US at risk. “Pruitt is a pure product of the oil and gas industry, installed in successive government posts to sell out his constituents at every turn,” Travis Nichols, a spokesperson for the charity, told The Independent. “As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt was an enthusiastic shill for the fracking industry, and a reckless obstruction to the Clean Power Plan.”

“You couldn’t pick a better fossil fuel industry puppet,” environmental group said.

He is a keen advocate of bible distribution in schools

Religion is high on Mr Pruitt’s agenda and fundamentally informs his world view. On his LinkedIn page, he calls himself a “leading voice for religious freedom and pro-life issues”. He has also been active in religious groups, serving as deacon of the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow.

Last year, Mr Pruitt defended bible distribution in schools, saying he believed the distribution of religious material to public school students was constitutional. “Few things are as sacred and as fundamental to Oklahomans as the constitutional rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion,” he said. “It is a challenging time in our country for those who believe in religious liberty. Our religious freedoms are under constant attack from a variety of groups who seek to undermine our constitutional rights and threaten our founding principles”.

Trump's EPA pick condemns Obama's conservation policy

He is against abortions

Being resolutely pro-life, Mr Pruitt supported the Oklahoma legislature's bid to join four other states trying to restrict medical abortions by limiting or banning off-label uses of drugs in 2013.

In 2014, Mr Pruitt filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the position that the owners of privately held companies need not provide their employees with birth control - if it goes against their religious convictions.

“The founders established a Constitution to protect Americans' religious freedom from an intrusive federal government,” he said after the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of the Hobby Lobby. “Today's ruling solidifies the principle that our religion is not a silent practice confined to the four walls of a church, but it is an opportunity to live out our faith in the public square.”

He has fought against transgender and workers rights

Mr Pruitt has fought transgender rights. He challenged Mr Obama's order to public schools that they should allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice, instead of their birth gender, otherwise the school could see its federal funding taken away.

He has also filed lawsuits against Mr Obama's overtime rule, which planned to give millions of Americans overtime pay as of 1 December. "The President does not have the authority to dictate to Oklahoma or any other state how they should budget state employee salaries,” he said.

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