Watch: Full interview with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Boris: Hi, we’re here with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Pruitt: Hey Boris, good to see ya.
Boris: Thanks so much for coming in, really appreciate it.
Pruitt: Likewise. Likewise.
Boris: Your time as administrator has seen a lot of successes. It has also seen some controversies. You received some criticism for pay raises for staff, some criticism for the way the taxpayer money is spent. What is your response?
Pruitt: Well, look, I care so much about taxpayer money. It’s what I’ve done historically when I served at the state level, it’s important that serving this capacity, everyone is a good steward of taxpayer money but these distractions, these issues that we’ve dealt with, largely it emanated from the great work that we’ve been doing. In the first year of the Trump administration, $1 billion in savings with respect to regulatory cost savings, at the same time environmental outcomes are approving. So there’s a lot of change taking place at the agency and how we do our work, for the better, and I think that’s caused, I knew this would be noisy, I knew it would be competitive, Boris, I knew there would be competition, if you will. And I think some of that is driven, as you put it, by some of the issues you’ve risen. But, look it’s important we respond, I’ve spent over six hours of testimony with Congress answering those questions, we’ve provided documentation. We’re doing what we need to do there to get beyond it and to focus on the agenda and still getting things done in the midst of it.
Boris: Have these controversies impacted the way you do your day-to-day job?
Pruitt: No, we’ve continued to advance. I mean even in the midst of these things, some of the things we’ll talk about today. The scientific transparency regulation that we put out. Lots of change with respect to the superfund status that we’ll talk about as well, as far as improvements there. So we continue to advance and obviously respond and provide the information that’s necessary and it’s important that we do so, but as we look forward to the future, we continue to advance the agenda of the president and making sure we achieve the results the American people deserve.
Boris: So, two more questions on this front and then we will move on to other important topics. What is the relationship like between you, the agency, and the White House right now?
Pruitt: It has been so, so consistent and so good, in the sense that the president is very empowering as you know.
Boris: Of course.
Pruitt: He’s about results and actions. It’s been that way since the very beginning and we continue to advance in that agenda. So, very very strong.
Boris: Great. Last question. There have been other members of the cabinet – Tom Price, David Shulkin – who have faced some of the same controversies and they are no longer with the administration. How have you handled these issues differently from these folks?
Pruitt: Well, I think these are different issues. When you look at what has been brought out, most of it is because the way the agencies have done business in the past, you know, and processes that were used that there should have been more oversight. I’ve actually made some of those changes. So, I’m trying to learn from this process and make sure that the agency applies different checks and balances in the future but continue to focus on getting results at the same time.
Boris: So, you are making some of those changes to make sure
Boris: ...there is more oversight?
Pruitt: Absolutely and we should. But that is something that we should endeavor to achieve in the future and now, but also focus on the agenda and so both are important.
Boris: Let’s talk about that. It’s been a year since the president pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accords, so for the folks at home this is a complicated issue. Can you break it down in a simple way of why that was the right move?
Pruitt: Well, it really wasn’t terribly complex in the sense that the president put America first and that he’s committed to that. He talked about promises made, promises kept. He’s done that across the board, from trade policy to national security to economic policy. And this is the same with the Paris decision, I mean when you look at the paris accord and what it represented for this country, it put America last, not first, and the president was courageous to do something about it when he made that decision last June in the Rose Garden. And the reason it was the wrong decision for this country is that we’re already leading the world in CO2 reduction. We’re already making changes through innovation and technology to see our CO2 footprint drop. Between the years 2000 and 2014, Boris, we cut our CO2 footprint by almost 20 percent. There’s a recent report that came out in the last month or so that shows an additional 2 percent. So we’re making tremendous progress. But what the Paris accord truly did was put America at a disadvantaged position economically. It wasn’t about CO2 reduction, if it were, China would not have had to wait until 2030 before they took any steps and the same thing with India and India was receiving $2.5 trillion in aid, as well. The president took a very courageous and I think right step to say we have nothing to be apologetic about we’re leading the world with respect to CO2 reduction, largely through innovation and technology. The Paris accord was about putting us in a disadvantaged position economically. And we’re going to not let that happen. And so the changes were made.
Boris: So looking back a year later now, was it the right move?
Pruitt: Absolutely. I mean we continue to see CO2 reduction, our economy is growing, opening comment about a billion dollars in regulatory savings. The entire Trump administration, $8 billion in the first year. Now think about that - the regulatory savings across the full executive branch across and we’re improving environmental outcomes. It’s demonstrative that you can do what’s good for the environment but also do what’s commonsensical on the regulatory side and achieve both a growing economy and positive outcomes for the environment.
Boris: When you became administrator, one of your focuses right away was regulation and to handle it differently than it was done before. How have you done that? Have you been successful so far?
Pruitt: It’s just getting back to the basics. Using common sense, I found that common sense is not too common at the agency. And the past administration used regulatory power as a weapon to pick winners and losers in the marketplace. I mean when you have a declared war on coal, now think about that, an agency of the federal government declaring war on one sector of the economy. And this president ended the war on coal and we’ve carried that out at the agency. We shouldn’t have a regulatory framework that picks winners and losers that says renewables, renewable fuel is better than fossil fuels. I mean we as a country need to recognize that we have an obligation to feed the world and power the world and we’ve been blessed with tremendous natural resources and we should use those natural resources with stewardship principles in mind, not prohibition, not to keep us from development but to use them for the betterment of this country and internationally. The president has talked about not energy independence, energy dominance and it’s happening.
Boris: What’s the next step in terms of deregulation and changing the way regulations are used?
Pruitt: Some of it is process oriented and when I say process, making sure as we adopt rules, Boris, that we do it the right way. In the past, the agency would use something called "sue and settle" where third parties would sue the agency and then the agency would go into a courtroom, sometimes in California, and negotiate a deal and put in the form of a consent decree. "Sue and settle." Regulation through litigation. We've ended that practice. We’ve changed how we do science at the agency to ensure there is more transparency and that there is peer review that's taking place to ensure that folks know that our rules are based upon sound science. Those are key. But rule of law matters, too. We shouldn’t be taking steps. It’s fifth grade civics that we in the agency are in the executive branch and we exist to enforce the law, not make up the law. And the past administration kind of pitch hit for Congress with [inaudible] of the united states, with the clean power plan. With all these different rules that were untethered to the statue.
Boris: And, even the Paris act, which was not a treaty.
Pruitt: It was never confirmed by the, by the Senate. And so there were constitutional concerns about that. So the Paris accord, the president saying "no" to that and then saying for regulations to make sure we get back to the basics of achieving good outcomes for the environment but also doing it within the rule of law but also the processes that matter, making a substantial difference across the economy. There is optimism across the country because of that.
Boris: Let’s talk about superfunds. What is a superfund?
Pruitt: Well, it is some of our most egregious polluted sites in the entire country. Its statute was set up in the 1980s and it was intended to address, you know, polluted sites that affected communities, you know, with lead and uranium and dioxin and other types of pollutants. And we have sites that have been on that list since the 1980s, literally have been languishing with little leadership and little direction. We cleaned up and removed three times as many sites as the previous administration last year. This year we are on track to do 10 times as many sites. So we are getting accountability in the superfund portfolio and then providing relief to communities all over the country so they can once again enjoy their own backyard and make sure that they can see developments take place.
Boris: These are impressive statistics. How are you able to do so much better than the previous administration on superfunds?
Pruitt: By just showing up and doing what the statute says and setting metrics and accountability. Air quality and our ozone 10 percent better. We’re focused upon lead and removing lead from our drinking water. The PFOA and PFOS hich is a chemical that caused harm to our environment for a number of years. We had a big summit last week with 200+ people with states involved. We are partnering with states. We are focusing on good processes and making sure we focus on objective results. Measuring those, that has never been done at the agency and we are seeing great improvement as a result.
Boris: Administrator, it has been a year since the president pulled us out of the Paris accords. What are your goals for the next year? This is an interesting benchmark. A year from now, what would have been a success when you look back?
Pruitt: Well, we are going to continue the regulatory reform agenda. Make sure we provide the regulatory clarity that people and citizens deserve across the county. I mean when you act in a way, Boris, you know when you take the Clean Air Act, you take the Clean Water Act, you take these various administrative statutes we have and you don’t do what the statutes require, those that are regulated don’t know what is expected of them and so that means they don’t invest. They don’t put money at risk and so when you simply do the basics of administering the statute, providing clarity to those that regulate it. Capital is deployed. Investment occurs. Good things happen to the environment. So regulatory reform will be a continued effort but we are going to continue to focus on superfund cleanup and investment in our, you know the president is talking about infrastructure and making sure we invest in our water infrastructure to ensure safe drinking water. So there are environmental objectives and regulatory reform that we will continue to see take shape this year.
Boris: A major issue in terms of drinking water, Flint. What is the latest? What is going on?
Pruitt: Well, Flint is an example of what takes place when an agency is not on top of things and when you don’t invest in infrastructure and what happened in Flint can happen elsewhere. It is the reason we’ve had a point of emphasis on removing lead from our drinking water. We had the PFOA, PFOS summit last week. We have to do more to invest in our infrastructure across the country and the president has shown leadership in that regard. He has taken a package to Congress to that end. We continue to advance it as well at the agency. So that’s very important whether its Gold King, Colorado, and what happened there, or in Flint, Michigan. That’s where an agency, the epa, before did not take accountability, did not show responsibility in each of those matters and now we are. We are taking concerted steps to work with states, work with communities to prevent those kinds of things from happening and ensure citizens across the country know that we can do better.
Boris: How close are the people of Flint to having fully safe drinking water?
Pruitt: Oh they are replacing those service lines to the tune of 6,000 plus a year which is a very rapid pace. That’s good. They have received over $200 million in aid. $100 million dollars in aid from the federal government through our agency and a hundred million dollars from the state level. So the state is taking concerted steps. The community is taking concerted steps and they are on a very good pace to achieve replacement of those lead service lines.
Boris: Last topic, infrastructure. You mentioned it. It’s been a big focus for the president. How likely is something on infrastructure to get done in Congress? They have been pretty slow on it.
Pruitt: Well, I think with the midterms approaching and where we are in the legislative calendar I think it’s tough to predict at this point. I’m sure there aren’t many that are optimistic. What I think is important is that the president is using his authority from a regulatory perspective and an executive branch perspective to advance these issues anyway. We are doing it at the agency through something called WIFIA, which is a state, federal partnership to focus on water infrastructure. Each respective dots doing in other areas. So, we are making progress there even without an infrastructure package. It would be good to see an infrastructure package but I think nonetheless we are going to advance the president’s agenda to deal with some of these issues.
Boris: Administrator, thanks so much. Good to see you.
Pruitt: Yeah, thanks Boris.