Monday, December 12, 2016
Oil industry stooge tapped to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency
By Daniel de Vries
President-elect Donald Trump last Thursday nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a fervent advocate of deregulation and a tool of the oil and gas industry, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The selection of Pruitt underscores the incoming administration’s far-right agenda and determination to eviscerate any remaining regulatory obstacles to corporate profit.
Pruitt’s chief qualification is his role in opposing anti-pollution rules issued by the EPA under the Obama administration. Pruitt filed or joined at least 13 lawsuits against the EPA, including leading a group of Republican Attorney Generals in fighting the Clean Power Plan, the 2015 rule governing carbon pollution from power plants.
Trump’s selection of Pruitt follows the appointments of Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Tom Price at the Department of Health and Human Services, and Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education. Like Pruitt, they are all ideological opponents of the social programs implemented by those agencies.
Pruitt is particularly hostile to government action to mitigate climate change and seeks to undermine its scientific basis, falsely characterizing the link between human activity and global temperature rise as an open scientific question. “[The climate change] debate is far from settled,” he wrote in National Review in May of this year. “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
EPA is one of several agencies with a role in conducting research and implementing policies to address climate change. All of these agencies are targeted for wholesale changes by Trump. At the Department of Energy, his transition team issued a list of 74 information requests to the agency, including a demand to identify staff and contractors who worked on climate change. The purpose of such a request can only be to target federal workers who may be hostile to Trump’s right-wing, anti-environmentalist agenda, intimidating opposition into silence.
Throughout his campaign, Trump issued vitriolic denunciations of the EPA in particular, pledging at various times to “abolish” or “refocus” the agency. Carrying forward Republican themes over the past decade, he blamed the loss of jobs by coal miners and other industrial workers on environmental protection, claiming the regulations make it impossible for US companies to compete. “For too long,” Trump said in a statement announcing Pruitt’s appointment, “the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn.”
The “landing team” named by Trump to organize the transition at the agency was drawn from conservative think tanks with a record of subverting climate science and otherwise attacking environmental rules. David Schnare, currently a lawyer at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute and formerly at the Thomas Jefferson Institute, for example, was involved in the harassment of prominent scientist Michael Mann, seeking troves of emails to uncover supposed malpractice. He followed the same playbook in seeking to force two University of Arizona climate scientists to reveal years of email records.
Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-wing advocacy group prominent for denying climate change, is heading the transition team. In addition to Schnare, Ebell is joined by figures from the Heritage Foundation, Federalist Society and Independence Institute.
Pruitt himself was connected to the Trump campaign through Harold Hamm, the billionaire CEO of the fracking giant Continental Resources and vocal supporter of Trump. Hamm served as honorary chairman of Pruitt’s 2014 re-election campaign for Oklahoma Attorney General.
In Oklahoma, Pruitt forged close ties not only with Hamm but with the entire oil and gas industry which dominates the state’s politics. He ran two federal political action committees out of his office, largely funded by the energy industry. One of them, Liberty 2.0, a so-called super PAC because it can raise unlimited money from corporations and individuals, raked in 46 percent of the $420,000 it collected since 2015 from fossil fuel interests. Pruitt’s alliance with the industry was so blatant that he allowed one of the state’s largest energy companies, Devon Energy, to ghost-write letters to EPA, which were signed by Pruitt on official state letterhead, an investigation by the New York Times revealed last year.
Pruitt also aligned himself with Christian fundamentalist groups in the state. He led legal campaigns against the removal of a Ten Commandments monument on the state capitol grounds, for “personhood” laws that award legal status to fertilized embryos, and for the distribution of Bibles at public schools.
Trump’s nomination was denounced by environmental advocates. “Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the US Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires,” the Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. Bernie Sanders, who lined up along with virtually the entire Democratic leadership to legitimize the Trump’s victory in the days following the election, bemoaned Scott Pruitt’s nomination as “sad and dangerous.”
While Republicans like Pruitt are the most rabid to gut the EPA, the Obama administration has overseen crippling cuts to staff and budgets, as part of its bipartisan budget deals with the congressional Republicans. Over the last two years the workforce was lower than at any time since 1990, when Clean Air Act amendments passed Congress. Adjusted for inflation, the 2016 budget is 22 percent lower than in 1990.
Obama’s signature environmental rule, the Clean Power Plan, was a political fraud that, if it were to survive, would do little more than memorialize a transition already underway towards cheap natural gas in the power sector. The apoplectic opposition from the likes of Pruitt, who filed suit before the Clean Power Plan had even been finalized, has more to do with an ideological fight against controls on corporations than the practical impact of what are, in fact, largely business-friendly regulations issued by the Obama administration. The Clean Power Plan sought to provide assurances to Wall Street and major energy companies that their continued investment in fossil fuel technologies are safe.
The environmental disasters which unfolded under Obama’s watch, from the BP oil spill to the Flint water crisis, demonstrate the subordination of health and environmental concerns to the profit interests of industry, regardless of which party writes the rules. Nonetheless, the nomination of Pruitt signals an attempt to rapidly accelerate the dismantling of whatever environmental gains had been made in previous decades.
The selection of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state is a political milestone. For the first time in US history, a corporate boss—and not just any executive, but the CEO of one of the world’s largest and most profitable corporations—is being put in charge of foreign policy for the US government. Nothing could more clearly define the central goal of the Trump administration: to increase the profits and wealth of the American plutocracy.
Significantly, the Democratic Party has responded to the nomination by denouncing Tillerson’s links to Russia, not his role as ExxonMobil CEO. Just as subservient to the billionaires as the Republicans, the Democrats have seized on Tillerson’s myriad business dealings with Russia, the world’s largest oil-producing nation, to push their campaign over Trump’s alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This campaign revolves around bogus claims that “Russian hacking” dominated the US presidential election and contributed to Trump’s narrow victory in the Electoral College. As the World Socialist Web Site has explained, the claims of undue Russian influence on the election are the product of a vicious conflict over foreign policy with the US ruling elite, driven by the strategic defeat US imperialism has suffered in Syria and divisions over whether Washington’s global military buildup should target Russia or China first.
The anti-Russia campaign to some extent cuts across party lines. It is noticeable that while most Senate Democrats expressed reservations about the Tillerson nomination, the most enraged denunciations came from Republicans with close links to the Pentagon.
Senator John McCain decried the fact that Tillerson received an award from Russian President Putin in 2011 after a major oil deal with the Russian oil giant Rossneft. “When he gets the friendship award from a butcher, frankly, it’s an issue that I think needs to be examined,” he said Sunday on Fox News.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who opposed Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, initially tweeted a similar view, writing, “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState.”
Editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post attacked the nomination along similar lines. The Times wrote, “In naming Mr. Tillerson to lead the State Department and having Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, Mr. Trump will have filled two top national security posts with pro-Russia apologists.”
The Post warned that “[Tillerson’s] nomination could augur a sellout by Mr. Trump of vital US interests in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.” The newspaper suggested that Trump should be compelled to disclose “any investments or loans his companies have received from Russian firms and individuals.”
More telling are the aspects of the Tillerson nomination on which the Democrats and the liberal editorialists chose not to focus, including glaring conflicts of interest. Secretary of State Tillerson would play a critical role in a range of areas where ExxonMobil has huge profit interests:
* The Keystone pipeline, which would connect Canada’s oil sands to US refineries, allowing Imperial Oil of Calgary (majority-owned by Exxon) to reach the world market.
* Iraq, where Exxon has lucrative contracts with the Kurdish regional government to develop oilfields in the northern part of the country, in defiance of the US-backed central government in Baghdad.
* Venezuela, which has been targeted by ExxonMobil for suits before international tribunals to the tune of billions of dollars.
* The Persian Gulf, where ExxonMobil has some of its biggest deals, particularly with Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
* Mexico, which has just opened its huge oil industry to foreign investment, under heavy US government pressure. ExxonMobil is a major player.
In the Trump administration, these are considered not conflicts, but pluses. Tillerson’s experience in bullying countries and buying presidents and prime ministers is exactly what is wanted in the Department of State. Hence his endorsement by such figures in the national security establishment (with close connections to the oil industry) as former secretaries of state James Baker and Condoleezza Rice, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The Tillerson nomination is a milestone in another sense. It puts the finishing touches on a Trump administration that is dominated by multi-millionaires and billionaires. The billionaires begin with Trump himself, joined by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (with a $3 billion fortune amassed from buying and closing coal mines, steel mills and auto parts plants), Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (of the $5 billion Amway fortune), and Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon (the billionaire co-owner of World Wrestling Entertainment). Ross’s deputy at the Department of Commerce is also a billionaire, Todd Ricketts, heir to the TD Ameritrade fortune and owner of the Chicago Cubs.
The billionaires are joined by only slightly less wealthy bankers and CEOs: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ($50–$100 million) and Gary Cohn ($300 million), who will head the National Economic Council, both from Goldman Sachs; Secretary of Labor Andrew Puzder (at least $30 million in stock in his Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurant chains); and now Tillerson, whose personal fortune is well over $300 million, including $238 million in ExxonMobil shares and a pension valued at more than $70 million.
There is no precedent for a US president selecting a cabinet with such a concentration of wealth. It demonstrates that the Trump administration is not an historical accident, but rather the culmination of a protracted political process in which a narrow, parasitic financial aristocracy has come to dominate every American institution. American society is smothering in the grip of the super-rich.
Along with the billionaires, Trump has brought in right-wing political figures identified with the dismantling of the social programs and regulatory agencies they will oversee. These include Representative Tom Price, an enemy of Medicare and Medicaid, to head the Department of Health and Human Services; ultra-right former presidential candidate Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development; former Texas Governor Rick Perry to run the Department of Energy; and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is currently suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block anti-pollution rules, to run the EPA.
For the three top national security positions, Trump has selected retired generals: Michael Flynn as national security adviser, James Mattis to run the Department of Defense, and Robert Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security.
There is nothing accidental here. The Trump
administration represents the coming
together of billionaire oligarchs, ultra-right
ideologues and the military brass. It is, in the
full sense of the terms, the most reactionary
and anti-democratic government in the
history of the United States.
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