Scott Pruitt’s Answers on Asbestos Leave Families Worrying about Toxic Chemicals

by Sokolove Law

Donald Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a lot of people worried for our planet.

As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt developed many ties with businesses and special interest groups. In order to uncover potential conflicts of interest, members of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee requested information from Pruitt under the Open Records Act. When those requests were not met, Democratic senators chose to boycott the meeting over Mr. Pruitt’s nomination.

Last Thursday, without a single Democrat present, Republican senators suspended committee rules in order to approve Mr. Pruitt. The Senate will vote on Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation this week.

Because of Mr. Pruitt’s history with special interests, fast-tracking Mr. Pruitt’s nomination without all of the information is incredibly dangerous.

The Importance of Open Records – Mr. Pruitt’s and Devon Energy

In 2014, through a similar open records request, The New York Times obtained a letter signed by the Mr. Pruitt while he was the Attorney General of Oklahoma. The letter, which pushed back against Obama era regulations, was actually drafted by lobbyists for Devon Energy, a fossil-fuel giant headquartered in Oklahoma City.

It’s easy to see where Mr. Pruitt’s interest lies once all the information is out. It’s terrifying to think about what sorts of cozy relationships Mr. Pruitt would develop as head of the EPA.

The Democrats on the Environment and Public Works committee boycotted the hearing because there were still at least 52 outstanding Open Records Act requests for information concerning Pruitt’s relationship with various special interest groups, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). CEI, one may remember, paid for that misleading “pro-carbon” commercial to combat scientists speaking out on global warming.

In a letter to Pruitt’s Oklahoma office, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) condemned the nominee’s efforts to disrupt the Senate’s vetting process:

“As a former Attorney General, I find Mr. Pruitt’s claims that he is not aware of pending open records requests at his office and is apparently powerless to provide that information to the committee on his own accord, hard to believe, and suggestive of an effort to hide information from the Senate before his confirmation.”

Especially in light of Devon Energy letter, it is very suspicious that Mr. Pruitt is so reluctant to share information concerning his dealings as public servant.

What Happens if Scott Pruitt Becomes the Head of the EPA?

In such controversial times, it’s difficult to sift fact from fiction. But when he speaks for himself, Mr. Pruitt gives little reason to expect he would make an appropriate leader of such an important agency.

On Pruitt’s LinkedIn profile, for example, he describes himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” He has taken pains to distance himself from fighting the EPA and only fighting the activist agenda. This raises an important question: What defines activist agenda for Mr. Pruitt?

In an op-ed he coauthored in the National Review, he questioned the motives of President Obama and other reformers as “The Climate Change Gang.” An overwhelming majority of scientists is a gang? But Mr. Pruitt has never stood up for science, so activist agenda might be read as those who look to science instead of big business for guidance on stewarding the planet.

Or, perhaps he gets his definition of activist from his potential future boss, Trump, who described the “mob” that fought to raise awareness about the dangerous of asbestos. “I believe,” wrote Trump in his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, “that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal.”

It takes a special kind of delusion to claim that the families of workers who suffered and died from deadly asbestos-triggered diseases like mesothelioma, died because of mob activity. In reality, their deaths were directly resulted from corporate greed; when shady companies put profits ahead of people.

Where Does Pruitt Stand on Toxic Chemicals?

One of the most important pieces of legislation passed last year was the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The Act overhauls the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was passed in 1976. The TSCA “grandfathered” in thousands of chemicals that were in use at the time, and the EPA had no framework to evaluate the safety of those chemicals.

On January 13, the EPA began this much needed process of evaluation to make sure that Americans are not exposed to toxic chemicals.

At his Senate hearing, Mr. Pruitt did pledge to uphold the Frank R. Lautenberg Act, but his answers on asbestos were flavored by his hallmark reticence of information. Consider the following telling exchange between Senator Markey (D-MA):

Sen. Markey: Asbestos is banned in 55 countries across the globe and the World Health Organization says, quote, “all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans”. More than 30 Americans die each day from diseases like asbestosis and cancer caused by asbestos . . . Do you agree with Mr. Trump that asbestos is 100 percent safe once applied or that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob?

Hon. Mr. Pruitt: Asbestos has been identified by the EPA as a high-priority chemical that requires a risk evaluation following the process established by the Lautenberg Act to determine whether conditions of use of the chemical substance pose an unreasonable risk. Prejudging the outcome of that risk evaluation process would not be appropriate.

It’s a strange and dodgy answer, given that the science is very clear on the dangers posed by asbestos. If Mr. Pruitt is in charge of the EPA, it’s hard not to think that big business will have a hand in the evaluation process. There is just too much at stake to let this happen.

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