The One Public Health Problem Scott Pruitt Should Fix Came Up Today

Asthma. It's asthma.

Getty Images / Aaron P. Bernstein

Scott Pruitt, who could very well be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has famously sued the federal watchdog 14 times, a stat that has come up often since President-elect Donald Trump nominated him for the position on December 7.

On Wednesday, Pruitt’s confirmation hearings (watch in full on CSPAN) began before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works — and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker brought that ludicrous stat out front-and-center with a focus on asthma.

“All of them, except one, challenge attempts by the EPA to reduce air pollution,” Booker said of Pruitt’s 14 lawsuits he filed as attorney general of Oklahoma. “You filed those lawsuits, joining with pollution companies that were also suing the EPA.”

Booker also brought up that Pruitt sort of copies his homework, too: “You used substantial portions of the letters from those companies, put them on your official Attorney General letterhead,” Booker said, noting he was surprised that Pruitt defended the legislative copy-and-paste job as “representative government in my view of the world.”

Pruitt’s view of the world, if he’s confirmed by the Senate to be the next head of the EPA, would involve him giving more leeway to business interests, of course (emphasis ours):

“If confirmed as Administrator, I am committed to ensuring EPA’s decisions are conducted through open processes that take into account the full range of views of the American people, including the economic consequences of any regulation,” Pruitt said in his opening statements, which were peppered with attacks on regulatory policy, and calls to give polluters more wiggle room (read the full thing here.)

Pruitt’s confirmation hearings signal the beginning of a period where pollution from an increasingly industrialized world will only grow. This is bad news for anyone who wants to curb water or air pollution, or asthma rates, as Booker soon got into.

“You were representing industry, you were representing the polluters,” Booker said. “With all of these lawsuits you’ve filed … it seems clear you’ve worked very hard on behalf of these industries.”

Booker then brought up the fact that 111,000 kids in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma have asthma, after first rhetorically-but-not-really asking the presumptive EPA chief if he knew that figure, released by the American Lung Association. (For perspective, that’s an increase from an estimated 88,825 children in Oklahoma who had asthma in 2008, according to the CDC.)

“More than one in ten of all kids in Oklahoma have asthma,” Booker said. “That’s one of the highest asthma rates in the entire United States of America.”

Air pollution isn’t just an environmental, temporary, — this-whole-thing-will-clear-up-eventually — issue, it’s an immediate public health clusterfuck: Some 600,000 children die annually from health problems relating to air pollution, according to a UNICEF report released in October. The same report found that two billion live in regions where the air quality is worse than standards set by the World Health Organization.

“If you’ve been writing letters on behalf of polluting industries, I want to ask you, how many letters did you write to the EPA about this health crisis?” Booker asked. “If this is representative government, did you represent those children?”

If it sounds like Pruitt was getting harangued, he was, sort of. But he’s in front of a friendly committee — it’s chaired by Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming, and the full Senate should follow suit. Per the political experts at the New York Times:

[I]t is highly likely that Mr. Pruitt will be confirmed by the full Senate. He is expected to receive support from all 51 Senate Republicans and from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.

So it looks like Pruitt, who’s a proud climate change-denier, will be terrifying his future employees soon enough. The question is now, will his reign push back environmental justice?

Related Tags