Trump picks fossil fuel friend to head environmental agency
IN ONE of the surest signs yet that president Barack Obama's progress on climate change will be scrubbed from history, Donald Trump has selected a close ally of the fossil fuel industry to head up the environment department.
The new leader of the Environmental Protection Agency will be Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, a Republican and key participant in the fight against Mr Obama's moves to counter climate change.
The move will severely disappoint activists who might have been hoping for the president-elect to change his mind, or at least dial down his intentions to scrap United Nations funding to tackle global warming and stop investment in renewable energy.
Mr Trump said at a recent meeting at the New York Times that there was "some connectivity" between humans and climate change, and said he would keep "an open mind" when it came to environmental policy. His flip-flop represented a huge change from his statement in 2013 that climate change was a "hoax invented by the Chinese".
Mr Pruitt will most likely eliminate any hope for an "open mind". He is a climate change denier, and said the science behind it was "subject to considerable debate".
Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols said in a statement that Mr Pruitt would put the US "at risk".
"Pruitt is a pure product of the oil and gas industry, installed in successive government posts to sell out his constituents at every turn," he said. "He will push this country far behind the rest of the world in the race for 21st century clean energy. With Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, the people and the environment will be in the hands of a man who cares about neither."
48-year-old Mr Pruitt has been hailed as a hero of the conservative movement that pushed back against Mr Obama's agenda. He, along with the likes of Texas governor Greg Abbott, filed a 28-state lawsuit against Mr Obama's rules, which came into play last year. That suit has not been resolved but is expected to end up with the Supreme Court.
The EPA of his administration forced power plants to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions under the 1970 Clean Air Act. A lawyer at the helm of the EPA could work to slowly weaken and undermine that Act, if not scrap it altogether.
Mr Pruitt's appointment also raises questions about the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion oil and gas project that was denied access over the weekend to dig under the Missouri River, close to the reservation of the Native American Sioux tribe.
Mr Obama had said the US Army Corps of Engineers would investigate other routes for the pipeline.
The Oklahoma lawyer has worked with oil and gas companies, who even drafted letters he sent to lobby the government on climate change. In 2011, he copied and pasted a letter written by lawyers for Devon Energy onto state government-branded stationery and sent it to the EPA.
The exhange worked both ways. Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Energy, was co-chairman of Mr Pruitt's 2013 re-election campaign. He got more than $300,000 worth of donations from the oil and gas industry.
Greenpeace's Mr Nichols said more people cared about climate change than voted for Mr Trump, and that his administration was on the "wrong side" of the issue.
"If climate change denial is going to the default position of the Trump White House, then relentless resistance will be the default position of the American people," he said.
Mr Pruitt has also fought transgender rights and basic workers' rights. He filed lawsuits against Mr Obama's overtime rule, which planned to give millions of Americans overtime pay as of 1 December. He also challenged Mr Obama's order to public schools that they should allow students to use the bathroom of their natural gender, instead of their birth gender, otherwise the school could lose its federal funding.