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Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower on Thursday in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Editorial: Foe of EPA is wrong person to lead it

SHARE Editorial: Foe of EPA is wrong person to lead it
SHARE Editorial: Foe of EPA is wrong person to lead it

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We are living in a time that calls for stepping up efforts across the board to protect our environment for future generations.

Unfortunately, President-elect Donald Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt, an open foe of environmental initiatives, to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That demonstrates a callous disregard for the health of our nation and planet just as rapid technological advances hold out hope for avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

The U.S. Senate should reject Pruitt. Everyone else — from individuals to businesses — should put the protection of the environment at the top of their agendas.

EDITORIAL

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As Trump takes a step backward, others, including Illinois, are moving forward. Google, which uses as much energy as the city of San Francisco, announced this week that by next year the company will run entirely on renewable energy. The giant pork producer Smithfield Foods, whose farm suppliers include many in Illinois, on Monday announced it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025, an amount equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the streets.

The Illinois Legislature last week enacted a law that some environmentalists are hailing for including measures that are “the biggest clean energy breakthrough in the state’s history.” Chicago and Paris will co-host a forum in March on improving urban waterfronts that will include environmental discussions.

During his campaign, Trump said he would dismantle President Barack Obama’s environmental policies and pull the United States out of the 195-nation Paris accord to reduce greenhouse gases and climate change. After the election, Trump moderated his tone, saying he has an open mind about climate change. His appointment of Pruitt, however, suggests that if he’s open to anything, it’s strictly more pollution.

Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, is an active foe of both the environment and the Environmental Protection Agency. He is a climate-change denier and he has repeatedly sued the EPA, including joining with other Republican attorneys general to try to block the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to limit greenhouse gases. Pruitt has resisted environmental limits on airborne soot, smog, mercury and arsenic. Particularly rankling to environmentalists was a 2014 letter he sent to the U.S. EPA on his attorney general letterhead that turned out to have been written by an oil and gas company. The EPA is all about science. Someone who doesn’t believe in science can’t do the job.

As EPA director, Pruitt would be in a strong position to subvert the very purpose of the agency. He could gut the EPA by firing scientists and slashing spending. He could allow more sulfur dioxide in the air, more acid rain, more pesticides in food, and more chemicals, industrial pollutants and radioactive material in the environment. His appointment would send a message to the rest of the world that the United States is not a partner in the effort to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. The damage could be incalculable. If a house divided against itself cannot stand, neither can a government agency.

Renewable energy is at a crossroads. It’s growing rapidly, employing many more people by the day while reducing the pernicious effects of burning fossil fuels. It needs wind at its back, not obstruction from the White House.

Trump, whose thoughts about crucial environmental issues seem pretty much limited to wrongly claiming that people can’t use hairspray anymore because of its effect on the ozone layer, should rescind Pruitt’s nomination. If he hesitates, pro-environment Republicans should insist.

At a time when serious scientists worry about cataclysmic disasters threatened by climate change, we can’t afford to put our future in the hands of an apologist for the fossil fuel industry. America needs an EPA chief who understands the value of environmental successes we have achieved and the critical importance of building on them.

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