Anyone laboring under the impression that the new Trump administration will be all bark and no bite when it comes to overturning long-established bipartisan policies should watch Team Trump’s assault on the Environmental Protection Agency closely. Aside from appointing Scott Pruitt, who is mainly familiar with EPA as a hated adversary in court, to be in charge of that agency, plans for an initial regulatory wave and budgetary policies amount to a 180-degree turn in environmental enforcement, as reported today by Axios. They include the complete elimination of climate-change programs; a half-billion-dollars in funding cuts for EPA grants to state and local governments; an immediate halt to Clean Air Act regulations affecting new and existing power plants; an about-face on auto emissions standards; and a general defanging of EPA’s crucial ability to overrule federal and state regulations that pose environmental dangers.
That’s probably just the beginning, because these plans were formulated by Trump’s EPA transition director, Myron Ebell, mostly famous as a climate-change skeptic, but more generally active as a policy wonk at a very prominent libertarian-ish think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, financed mostly by a rogue’s gallery of fossil-fuel industries and right-wing foundations.
Ebell was among the first of the transition team agency leaders to be announced, and had even been discussed as a possible EPA director. So it’s not surprising he is placing his stamp on initial environmental policies even as Pruitt makes his way through the confirmation process. And his reputation as an enemy of environmentalism in all its forms is long-standing. Back in 2001 the Clean Air Trust named Ebell its “clean air villain of the month” after “leading a ferocious lobbying charge to persuade President Bush to reverse his campaign pledge to control electric utility emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming.” He hasn’t mellowed with age.
Here was Ebell’s take on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on climate change:
It is, in general, scientifically ill-informed, economically illiterate, intellectually incoherent, and morally obtuse. It is also theologically suspect, and large parts of it are leftist drivel, albeit couched in the vocabulary of Catholic social teaching.
It tells you everything you need to know about Ebell’s sense of humility that he considered himself qualified to second-guess Francis’ theological chops. It is very unlikely he will suffer from any inhibitions in promoting the evisceration of EPA and its policies.