It's fair to say people were shocked at the appointment of Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After all, prior to his appointment he sued the EPA 13 times and was quoted as wanting to get rid of it altogether. There was a chance, some suggested, he may not have the agency's best interest at heart.
Fast forward a year and the response to Pruitt’s continued abuse – and the conspicuous ignoring – of his position as the head of a federal agency has ranged from outrage to eyebrow-raising to resigned eye-rolling, as yet another story comes out about his spending habits or industry pals.
The most ludicrous of all, of course, is when Pruitt went on national TV and declared he wasn’t convinced humans were contributing significantly to climate change – something that isn’t questioned by the vast amount of experts and pretty much all world leaders the world over. It was a ‘you do know who you work for, right?’ moment.
Now, a federal court has ordered the EPA to back up that claim, using the scientific evidence available. Oh, and they’ve got four weeks to do it.
It all started the day after Pruitt’s March 9 appearance on CNBC, where he stated he did not believe it had been proven that human-created CO2 levels were a “primary contributor” to climate change and that there was “tremendous disagreement” about its impact.
On March 10, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) put in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the agency records “relied upon by Administrator Pruitt in making these statements and any EPA documents that support the conclusions that human activity is not the largest factor driving global climate change.”
The EPA refused to comply with the FOIA request, calling it “an interrogation,” something chief judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Beryl Howell, called on Friday “simply a reach too far.”
In fact, Judge Howell has ordered the EPA to "promptly perform a search and produce the documents" by July 2. She also issued a deadline of July 11 for the agency to provide PEER with an explanation for why it refused to comply and withheld the requested documents.
"[The] EPA's strained attempt to raise an epistemological smokescreen will not work here to evade its obligations under the FOIA," Judge Howell ruled, pointing out that the "EPA's apparent concern about taking a position on climate change is puzzling since EPA has already taken a public position on the causes of climate change."
In fact, Howell voiced her concern about the agency’s challenge to the FOIA: "Particularly troubling is the apparent premise of this agency challenge to the FOIA request, namely: that the evidentiary basis for a policy or factual statement by an agency head… is inherently unknowable.”
This, she said, directly goes against US administrative law that a federal agency has a responsibility to explain the rationale and factual basis for any policy decisions.
The EPA has argued that Pruitt’s statement was a personal opinion and not agency policy.
The evidence shouldn’t be a problem to provide though, Pruitt seems pretty confident in his assertions. He even tried to back them up with a red team-blue team live TV debate about it – oh wait, that got shut down.
Luckily he has a whole team of scientists working at the agency – wait, no, he fired most of those too.
Our guess is as good as yours as to what kind of evidence Pruitt will find to support his claim, see you back here in July?