Scott Pruitt is one of the most dangerous men in the world. While we anxiously watch Trump and Kim Jong-Un bait each other with threats of catastrophe and bloodshed, Pruitt has been barreling ahead with his own war, of which the body count will extend far beyond the confines of the Korean peninsula.
This is a war on the environment. I do not use those words lightly—what we’re seeing today is not just a mockery of the EPA’s original mission or Obama’s legacy. Instead, this is a carefully orchestrated assault on the core principles of environmentalism, an attack that goes far beyond what is politically advantageous for the GOP. Many of us forget that our nation’s greatest pieces of environmental legislation were passed under a Republican administration in the early ’70s: the formation of the EPA, the Clean Water and Air Acts, the Endangered Species Act, etc. These acts, much more ambitious than anything passed under Obama, were hailed by politicians and voters on both sides of the aisle as victories for American prosperity. Even if it meant sacrificing certain profitable business practices or curbing corporate expansion, the national consensus was that environmental health had to become a priority. This awakening, the synthesis of the modern environmental movement, had been spurred by flashpoint events like the burning of the Cuyahoga River and the the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” We began to realize our “enlightened” dominion over the earth, our supposed right to pillage and plunder nature in the name of progress, was limited. We were forced to stop assuming our innovation would insulate us from environmental conditions—our inescapable ties to the natural world were made more visible as we became sick from hazy air and dirty water. These revelations opposed notions of limitless growth and unbridled capitalism, but for a short while Americans from all points on the political spectrum accepted environmental and economic regulation as necessary safeguards, a worthwhile price to pay for clean air, water and open space.
This sort of unity has all but dissipated. So far gone are the days of bipartisan environmental legislation that today, even the government’s smallest excursions into pollution regulation are declared overreach. The monumental legislation of the ’70s would never make it past Pruitt and Trump if it fell on their desks today, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that old environmental legislation is on the chopping block, too. I often hear people explain this administration’s anti-environment agenda as a product of vendetta, with Trump gutting Obama’s legacy whenever and wherever he can.
This is an optimistic view. Trump may just be spiteful, but Pruitt truly believes in what he’s doing. He has been a staunch opponent to any and all environmental regulation throughout his entire career, a figurehead of the “resistance” that materialized to combat environmentalism in the ’80s, when the resurgence of fiercely nationalistic, corporate-driven capitalism identified the environmental movement as an enemy—and rightfully so. As the scope of our environmental impact became more clear, and as the threat of climate change materialized, environmental activists became critics of more than just pollution and deforestation. They began to recognize that our entire economic system, rooted in extractivism and boundless growth, was incompatible with a sustainable society. The ideas that environmentalism (and especially climate action) began to expound seemed suspiciously socialist and dangerously radical to the political and industrial elites. They recognized true environmental justice as a threat to their way of life and took significant steps to insulate themselves, their business and their profits from any revolutionary change. With Pruitt at the head of the EPA, these elites have won a victory against environmentalism that has been decades in the making. There is a reason Pruitt frequently sits down to dinner with coal executives and oil barons but will never be seen on the ground in poor, downtrodden communities dealing with the impacts of climate change. To acknowledge nature’s plight, and our entwined fates, is to Pruitt and his colleagues an admittance of defeat, a bow to the anti-capitalist, anti-extractivist crowds that threaten the livelihoods of his crowd.
The recent rollback of the Clean Power Plan is nothing more than a tactic of ideological warfare. Pruitt does not care about environmental health, the families of coal miners or revitalizing poor communities. Don’t let him fool you.