Trump’s EPA Pick Has Tussled With Animal Groups, Criticized Biofuels

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By Casey Wooten and David Schultz

Dec. 8 — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the nation’s top environmental watchdog will be in a prime position to roll back Obama-era agriculture regulations.

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general and frequent critic of the agency he has been tapped to lead, has fought the Obama administration’s animal welfare and environmental rules. And if he is confirmed as EPA administrator, Pruitt has indicated that he plans to continue the battle.

“The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses,” Pruitt said in a Dec. 8. statement.

Animal, Water Issues

As attorney general, Pruitt battled with animal rights groups and helped author Question 777, an unsuccessful ballot initiative that would have required Oklahoma courts to overturn any agricultural or livestock regulations unless there was “a compelling state interest.” Known as a “right-to-farm” provision, the language would have made it much easier to challenge environment and animal right rules in state court.

“He was very, very supportive on the animal side,” John Collison, vice president of public policy at the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, told Bloomberg BNA.

Voters defeated the measure 60 percent to 40 percent during the Nov. 8 elections.

In 2014, Pruitt joined several other state attorneys general in suing the state of California over rules that expanded the minimum enclosure size for egg-laying hens, claiming that since so much interstate trade is done in the egg market, it violated the Constitution’s commerce clause.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling Nov. 17, siding with California.

In 2015, Pruitt sued the EPA over the Waters of the United States rule, calling it an executive overreach. Known as WOTUS, the rule clarifies which waters and wetlands fall under the protection of the Clean Water Act and has been the subject of criticism from some agribusiness groups.

“President-elect Trump’s selection of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency is welcome news to America’s farmers and ranchers—in fact, to all who are threatened by EPA’s regulatory overreach—and should help provide a new degree of fairness for U.S. agriculture,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.

RFS In or Out?

Pruitt’s position on deregulation will likely put him in favor with agribusiness, but that goodwill may be tempered by his past opposition to federal mandates that require gasoline makers to blend ethanol into their fuels, known as the renewable fuel standard.

“The evidence is clear that the current ethanol fuel mandate is unworkable,” Pruitt, whose home state has a heavy fossil fuel presence, said in 2013.

Still, it may not be simple for Pruitt to roll back the RFS. Outgoing Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack told Bloomberg News recently that the program was probably safe under a Trump administration because the ethanol infrastructure and economy was too well established in rural America to be dismantled easily.

Trump himself has been on both sides of the issue, telling an Iowa renewable fuels association that the mandates should be expanded. A few months later, his campaign published a document calling for an end to the system by which fuel makers trade credits to comply with the RFS.

The program, started under the Bush administration, has helped boost income for some corn farmers, and removing demand for bio-fuel ingredients may be a tough political sell as corn and other crop prices are already depressed because of large surpluses.

“We were promised a farmer-friendly EPA by President-elect Trump, yet his pick for the agency wants to upend one of the most successful economic drivers in rural America,” Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said in a statement. “This appears to be yet another example of the President-elect saying one thing to the American public, and doing another.”

Congressional Democrats have largely vowed to fight Pruitt’s nomination, not just because of agriculture issues but based on the attorney general’s skepticism toward human-caused climate change as well.

But Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has said he would swiftly hold a confirmation hearing when Congress reconvenes next year.

To contact the reporters on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at cwooten@bna.com; David Schultz in Washington at dschultz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

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