- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2016

With Scott Pruitt poised to reshape the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental activists soon will find themselves on the outside looking in after eight years of driving climate change policy and wielding unprecedented influence over federal regulators.

President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Mr. Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general and one of the EPA’s staunchest enemies since his election in 2010, signals the end of a power structure that has allowed environmental activists to not only have the ear of government officials but also to play a significant role in writing policy and, in the process, ensure that their goals were addressed.

Groups like the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and others no longer will find an ally atop the EPA, and over the next four years they’ll battle an agency with which they’ve had a symbiotic relationship since President Obama’s first days in office.

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From day one of a Trump administration, Mr. Pruitt’s EPA is expected to be much friendlier to oil-and-gas industry interests, and will act quickly to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other EPA efforts designed to weaken the fossil fuels industry, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthen the renewable fuel sector. At the same time, energy analysts say the influence of environmental activists will shrink dramatically, and those activists likely will turn their attention to lawsuits, large-scale protests, and other ways to disrupt the Trump-Pruitt agenda from the sidelines.

“Without a doubt, the environmental groups will go from having a seat at the table, helping to actually write the regulations, to definitely being on the outside,” said Daniel Simmons, vice president for policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research. “Scott Pruitt, while he’s sued the federal government on the Clean Power Plan, for example, his opposition is not just to the government but also to those environmental groups … It extends further than the EPA.”

The close relationship between Mr. Obama’s EPA and environmental activists has included a remarkable level of access. Emails from the account of former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who headed the agency during Mr. Obama’s first term, showed virtually constant contact between EPA leaders and outside environmental groups, and usually included discussions of specific policies under development at the time.

Critics have even suggested that the EPA lifted official policy language from environmental activist proposals, though groups like the Sierra Club and the NRDC have denied those charges. Neither group responded to a request for comment Thursday.

Beyond discussions about policy, environmental groups also have used “sue and settle” tactics to drive regulatory changes. Under the system, outside organizations sue a federal agency, and the agency settles the lawsuit by agreeing to at least some of the litigants’ demands. EPA detractors say the method essentially amounts of de facto federal rule-making and casts aside the normal process for writing new regulations.

Under the Obama administration, there’s also been a blatant revolving door between federal agencies and leading environmental groups. NRDC President Rhea Suh, for example, served as assistant secretary for policy, management, and budget at the Interior Department before taking her job atop the NRDC in January 2015.

In a statement Thursday announcing his selection of Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Trump suggested he wants his EPA to abandon the kinds of regulation favored by environmental activists — regulations that he argues have hampered economic growth.

“For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn,” the president-elect said. “As my EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, the highly respected attorney general from the state of Oklahoma, will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”

In his own comments, Mr. Pruitt said he’ll run the EPA “in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

For now, activist groups are mum on their broader plans moving forward and are focused largely on pressuring senators to reject Mr. Pruitt, calling him an unacceptable choice.

“Nothing less than our children’s health is at stake. Scott Pruitt, whose own bio describes him as ‘a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda’ cannot be trusted to head the EPA, an agency charged with protecting all Americans from threats to their water, air, and health,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “We strongly urge senators, who are elected to represent and protect the American people, to stand up for families across the nation and oppose this nomination.”

But Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation seems all but certain in a Republican-led Senate. After Mr. Pruitt takes the helm, activists likely will turn to other measures.

“They will use every tool at their disposal to slow down Scott Pruitt’s agenda,” Mr. Simmons said. “They will become much more litigious. They will continue large amounts of activism This will really get the grass-roots environmental activists amped up.”

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