Scott Pruitt has a well-established history in the public eye. After being elected to serve as Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, he promptly dissolved the Environmental Protection Unit, and prior assuming office as the 14th Administrator of the EPA, he sued the agency 14 times on behalf of the fossil fuel industry – unsuccessfully, might I add. Considering historical precedent, his close ties with those to the likes of the Koch Brothers, and an administration that continues to perpetuate the decades-old “War on Coal” narrative, I’m going to predict the future: Scott Pruitt will attempt to revoke the conductivity rule.
Frankly, I find it odd that a man without a scientific background would even be considered qualified to lead one of the foremost scientific bodies. It seems comparable to asking the rapper B.o.B, someone who believes the earth is flat, to serve as the head of NASA. That would only make sense if your mission was to systematically undermine the last half-century’s worth of scientific advancements and deny its objective truths, but I digress.
A War on Coal
The Appalachia region shares a rich history with coal mining, it’s synonymous with survival for those who reside in coal-bearing counties, and a way of life that coincides with the pride of a family tradition. Many a boomtown was made at the hands of King Coal, and many a politician lied like hell as to why hollowed mountains hollowed the heart right out of those once thriving towns.As resource reserves became more and more scarce, companies began to transition toward machine-intensive operations, and the market began to shift away from non-renewable energy— the good people of Appalachia were all but forgotten.. until the next election, that is.
I am not denying that tighter regulations played part in the fall of King Coal, I’m saying its impact was menial, at best— it’s the equivalent of vehicle safety standards imposed on the auto industry. Make no mistake, the cause of coal’s crash is infinitely more correlated economic factors and advancements in technology. But you won’t hear that from your favorite politician, that’s for sure. They need money to run a campaign and they need your vote to win the election. So what do they do? Take the money and divide up the voters – point fingers, purposely misplace the blame and pretend to be the saving grace.. but you gotta vote for me.
The fact of the matter is, lobbying for the fossil fuel industry is no different than if the horse industry had lobbied against Henry Ford in the 1930’s. Some-odd years later, we stopped riding a horse to work, just like there will be a day when we will no longer rely on fossil fuels for energy production. We are a free-market economy, and at its very core, capitalism implies that the government has little to no influence. Renewable implies replacive, and albeit sustainability will come at a social cost, that cost will be trumped by economic efficiency.
Controversy Surrounding the Conductivity Rule
In April of 2010, the EPA put forth a memorandum detailing the framework of an approval process for permits to dispose of coal mining waste under the Clean Water Act.The intent was to strong-arm the industry into adopting practices that mitigated the ecological degradation caused by valley fills and was backed by evidence from the best available science.
In addition, the memorandum implemented fairly strict limitations on the conductivity levels founded in waters affected by mining operations– a measure of the water’s ability to conduct electricity, where a higher value implies a greater degree of dissolved chemicals. In large part, the conductivity rule formally bridged policy-making with longstanding academic research by recognizing the relationship between water quality and the point at which reasonable harm could potentially occur– impacting aquatic species, local wildlife, and humans alike.
It was heavily criticized by both sides of the aisle, the mining industry, and several states. Kentucky and West Virginia filed legal suits, which were consolidated with those brought about by coal companies and outside trade associations. According to the Congressional Research Service, they argued that the conductivity benchmarks were set at such a low point that it would be unfeasible to achieve.
In Comes Scott Pruitt
It’s not hard to predict what this administration will do next. Well, maybe not “next”, but at some point up the road. At one point, Pruitt’s LinkedIn profile described him as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.
A brief list of notable accomplishments since Mr. Pruitt took office include:
- Shut down data collection of emissions from oil and gas companies
- Removed almost 2,000 agency websites, specifically related to climate change, in an effort to curb public access to information
- Repeal of the Clean Power Plan
- Directed his staff to withdraw a plan to protect the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, within hours of meeting with CEO of the same company hoping to mine it
So why wouldn’t he move to dismantle parts of the Clean Water Act? He’s in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, and the Conductivity Rule is the easiest place to start.