White House

‘War on coal’? Trump EPA nominee says natural gas is the winner, not regulators

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. AP

Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency said fracking, not EPA regulations, was responsible for displacing coal in the nation’s power generating sector, in testimony before a House subcommittee in May.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is one of the leading opponents of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and his nomination is sure to please fossil fuel interests. Trump campaigned on a promise to restore lost coal industry jobs, and he carried the country’s coal producing regions easily.

Yet when Pruitt appeared before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Environment Subcommittee, he contradicted the narrative promoted by coal industry allies in Congress, one that chiefly blames EPA regulations and President Barack Obama’s energy policies for coal’s decline.

The shift away from coal, he testified, was not the result “of the heavy hand of the EPA,” but of market forces in Oklahoma and other states that have unleashed an abundance of cheaper natural gas.

“As natural gas becomes increasingly affordable,” Pruitt said in May, “it becomes an increasingly attractive alternative to coal.”

Pruitt told lawmakers that Oklahoma produced 7.4 percent of the nation’s natural gas. He cited the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s conclusion that natural gas drove a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector to 1993 levels in 2015.

“We are a leading innovator in natural gas production through hydraulic fracking,” he said, “a technological innovation that has done more to reduce carbon emissions in this country than any other technological advancement of our time.”

Pruitt was one of the first state attorneys general to sue the EPA to stop the Clean Power Plan, which would require a one-third reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. A total of 29 states joined the lawsuit, most of them large producers or consumers of coal.

The Clean Power Plan is on hold while it’s under review in the federal courts.

Trump has indicated that he’d like to scrap the plan, and he’s also in a position to appoint a Supreme Court justice who’d vote to strike it down.

If Pruitt is confirmed by the Senate, he’d bring a regulatory viewpoint to the agency that very strongly favors the states. Though he told the House subcommittee in May that some air and water quality issues require federal intervention, “the EPA was never intended to be our nation’s front line environmental regulator.”

“The states were to have regulatory primacy,” he testified. “The EPA was to be a regulator of last resort.”

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis