Clearing the Air at the EPA
By Morgan Griffith
President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is welcome news. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has strongly pushed back against many rules and regulations coming from Washington, D.C. In particular, he has led states in suing to block the EPA’s overreaching policies.
Many in the media report this news with shock. They wonder how someone “CURRENTLY SUING” the EPA could possibly be fit to lead it. I wish those stunned by this appointment would listen to or read the testimony I have heard from EPA officials in Energy and Commerce Committee hearings. What I find stunning is the logic offered by agency officials to justify actions at odds with the plain text of laws passed by Congress.
Take the Clean Power Plan. I have written often in this column about the EPA’s claim that it can use the Clean Air Act to force states to create and implement a plan to reduce their carbon emissions. It is bad for coal miners and all consumers of electricity, but it is also bad for the rule of law. Under the Clean Power Plan, the EPA claims it can regulate existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, but the EPA already regulates them under Section 112. The problem is that the language of the Clean Air Act prohibits this type of dual regulation, a point that the EPA itself has conceded in the past (before changing its tune).
When famed liberal legal scholar Laurence Tribe, who taught America’s first environmental law class and mentored President Obama, testified before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, he stated, “EPA is attempting an unconstitutional trifecta: usurping the prerogatives of the States, Congress, and the Federal Courts – all at once. Much is up for grabs in this complex area. But burning the Constitution of the United States – about which I care deeply – cannot be part of our national energy policy…”
The EPA cited the Clean Air Act in another power grab, this time to regulate truck trailers. The law authorizes the EPA to regulate emissions from motor vehicles, defined in the US code as follows:
42 USC 7550(2)
The term “motor vehicle” means any self-propelled vehicle designed for transporting persons or property on a street or highway.
When I asked EPA official Janet McCabe how a trailer could be considered a self-propelled vehicle, she claimed that trailers are covered because, “without a trailer, a truck is not transporting goods.” Based on this logic, because trucks don’t currently drive themselves, the EPA could regulate the size of the driver, too!
On a number of occasions during the current administration, the courts have found that federal agencies exceeded their authority in making rules. The fact that this has happened repeatedly tells me that many of the lawyers employed by the federal government are not doing their jobs.
Lawyers employed by the federal government should not evaluate proposed regulations by their goal or their supervisors’ wishes, but rather by their compliance with the Constitution and the law.
I believe that the lawyers for the EPA and other agencies have acted with malfeasance in this regard. When the federal government’s lawyers improperly sign off on ridiculous arguments, Scott Pruitt and other state attorneys general have a duty to stand up for the powers the Constitution reserves to the states, just as congressmen have the duty to stand up for the powers delegated to the legislative branch.
As EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt’s first task should be to clean house in the EPA’s Office of General Counsel, which provides legal advice to the agency.
Under its present leadership, the EPA apparently believes that it’s better for a thousand people to lose their jobs than for a single tree to be axed or one chunk of coal to be burned. We need the EPA to balance protecting our environment without destroying our economy. As the Supreme Court ruled in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, it should not pursue an environmental agenda at all costs.
The EPA must also recognize that it should carry out the laws passed by Congress, not rewrite them or create new ones.
Scott Pruitt has shown that he understands the proper role of the EPA. He is an excellent choice to lead the EPA and I urge the Senate to confirm him promptly.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276.525.1405. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at morgangriffith.house.gov.
Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) represents Virginia’s ninth congressional district in United States House of Representatives.