***Cynthia Giles is no longer at the University of Chicago***
By Emily Atkin
Last year, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, embarked on a media tour to convince the public that President Barack Obama was bad for the environment. In interviews with Fox and Friends; conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt; the Washington Examiner; and conservative radio stations in Texas and North Dakota, Pruitt said the “environmental left” wrongly characterized Obama as an “environmental savior.”
“Superfund sites, we have more today than when President Obama came into office,” he said in one interview from May. “Water infrastructure, you had Flint and you had Gold King. The regulations that they issued on carbon, they failed twice. They struck out twice. So when you look at their record, what exactly did they accomplish for the environment that folks are so excited about?”
Today, however, the person who appears most excited about Obama’s environmental accomplishments is Pruitt, as he keeps mistaking Obama’s victories for his own.
The latest instance occurred during Pruitt’s double-header of congressional hearings last week. In his opening remarks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on environment, Pruitt touted his agency’s efforts to clean up Superfund sites, the most contaminated industrial sites in the country. “We have removed over three times the number of polluted sites of contaminated communities across the country as compared to the previous administration for 2017,” he said.
Pruitt has also taken undue credit for collecting money from polluting companies that have broken environmental laws. In February, his EPA announced more than $5 billion collected from enforcing anti-pollution laws in the fiscal year 2017—ostensibly following up on a promise Pruitt made in October “to do enforcement, to go after bad actors and go after polluters.” But Cynthia Giles, who led enforcement at the EPA during Obama administration, told The New York Times that most of that money came from lawsuits initiated and litigated by her team.
“Nearly all of the large cases included in EPA’s annual enforcement report were essentially over before the new administration arrived at EPA,” she said. “Without an unprecedented disavowal of an already negotiated and public agreement, there is nothing Administrator Pruitt’s team could have done to change the outcome. In no sense do these cases reflect the intentions or actions of the new administration.”