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On Dec. 7, environmental leaders and advocates rallied outside the Rayburn House Office Building while current Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testified on the mission of the EPA to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The assembled leaders voiced questions about Pruitt’s leadership, namely the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and Pruitt’s “back to basics” approach with the EPA.

“We question where his priorities lie — and they’re not with us, they're with corporate polluters,” said Congressman Donald McEachin (D-Va.) in a speech during the rally.

Before becoming EPA, Administrator Pruitt sued the EPA more than 14 times as Oklahoma attorney general. He also has strong ties to the oil and gas industry — both which have been proven to be harmful for the environment.

During his time as administrator, Pruitt has met with several oil, gas, and other corporate entities, whom he has referred to as “stakeholders.” But many environmental leaders do not see his relationship with these corporations as innocent meetings. They believe he is interested in gaining their approval, rather than dealing with the environmental issues that many of these companies cause. 

“Government officials aren’t supposed to act as lobbyists, but his actions lead us to believe that what Scott Pruitt is is a lobbyist for oil and gas companies,” Elizabeth Brandt, Washington D.C. field consultant for Mom’s Clean Airforce, said at the rally.  

Others, including Brandt, called Pruitt’s ethics into question, citing his recent installation of a $25,000-dollar telephone/privacy booth in his office

“I have to assume he’s not using his secret telephone booth to call moms outside the port of Houston that have to miss work because their children have asthma attacks,” said Brandt.  

“I’m going to assume that he is not calling my sister who’s undergoing chemotherapy after growing up next to a superfund site in Tacoma, Washington.”

As Pruitt’s ethics are being called into question, so are his morals. Pruitt is currently under investigation for meeting and colluding with a mining group in April to encourage President Trump to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. 

At the rally, Jason Miller, director of campaigns and development for the Franciscan Action Network, asked Pruitt and other government officials to keep in mind the most vulnerable populations affected by climate change.

The fact is, African Americans are 75 percent more likely than the average American to live in “fence-line” communities near oil and gas facilities, according to a recent NAACP report. Puritt’s recent proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan — an Obama-era plan that established state-by-state goals for reducing carbon emission with options to achieve those reductions — would affect air quality and public health in these communities. If the Clean Power Plan goals are met, it would mean closing hundreds of facilities that expose communities to harmful toxins like formaldehyde, that has been linked to cancer, and benzene, linked to brain damage, birth defects, and cancer.

Pruitt refers to his new agenda as a “back to basics” approach. This means removing the EPA from extraneous activity — mostly, according to Pruitt, the climate change battle. He wants the EPA to only concentrate on its core issues: protecting air, water, and public health. Since taking office, Pruitt has already set forth several repeals and rollbacks for multiple regulations and plans, revoked the requirement that oil and gas companies monitor methane output, moved to rescind the "Waters of the U.S." rule that limits toxins from leaching into drinking water, and much more.

As the EPA continues to roll back regulations and collude with the industry in ways that will affect creation and the those that care for it, many cannot see where his faith is.

“I suggest he read his copy of the [papal encyclical] Laudato Si,” said Miller.

“As a person of faith I hope he reads that with an open mind and understands these things that’s he’s doing at the EPA, they are impacting people and everyone is being hurt by what he is doing.”

Alaura Carter is Climate Justice Coordinator at Sojourners.

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