It’s official: Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s controversial pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, was confirmed by the Senate today. The 52-46 vote fell largely along party lines, and it installs Pruitt as administrator of the very agency he made his name as a politician railing against. As the New York Times reports, Pruitt is likely to bring about an end to President Obama’s marquee domestic green efforts:
Within days of Mr. Pruitt’s swearing-in, Mr. Trump is expected to sign one or more executive orders aimed at undoing Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, people familiar with the White House’s plans said.
While it will be impossible to undo the rules immediately, the presidential signatures would give Mr. Pruitt his marching orders to commence the one- to two-year legal process of withdrawing the Obama-era climate rules and replacing them with looser, more industry-friendly rules. It is also possible that under Mr. Pruitt, the Trump administration could pursue the bold legal strategy of challenging the underlying legal requirement that the federal government regulate planet-warming greenhouse gases in the first place.
Pruitt is a skeptic of anthropogenic climate change—he has said in interviews that the link between our warming planet and human activities is “subject to considerable debate.” On that fact, he’s dead wrong. The science behind the greenhouse effect, and the gases like carbon dioxide that exacerbate it, is rock solid. So too is the knowledge that we’re emitting those greenhouse gases in unprecedented amounts. The skeletal structure of our effect on climate change is not subject to debate, and the fact that the head of the EPA doesn’t see it that way will be understandably concerning to environmentalists.
That said, Pruitt’s insistence that dissent shouldn’t be considered criminal and that debate should be encouraged does have a place in modern climate science. Greens consistently exaggerate just how refined our understanding of our planet’s climate really is, setting themselves up to look downright foolish when models get things wrong or research uncovers new variables or feedback loops that can considerably alter our expectations for what comes next. Pruitt is correct when he asserts that climate science isn’t “settled,” and it’s not necessarily a bad thing that, under his guidance, the federal government might look at these issues with a more critical eye.
Taking a step back, however, Obama’s green legacy was going to take a clobbering no matter who was appointed to the EPA. Trump is expected to sign a raft of executive orders walking back his predecessor’s own executive orders, undoing much of Obama’s efforts. This is what happens when you push through policy without the support of the legislature: you open yourself up to quick negation by your successor. If you choose to live by the executive order, you have to be ready to die by the executive order. It’s not clear that Trump has much of an eye on his own legacy just yet, but if he does, he’d do well to remember that that truth will apply to him as well.