By Martin Kidston
Groups across Montana blasted president-elect Donald Trump’s appointment to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, saying the nomination was akin to putting the Grim Reaper in charge of health care.
This week, Trump tapped Scott Pruitt, an ally of the fossil fuel industry and a denier of climate change, to head the federal agency that’s in charge of protecting human health and the environment – a move that drew sharp criticism from groups in Montana looking to counter climate change and move the state toward a future in clean technologies.
“It’s like putting the Grim Reaper in charge of health care, or an arsonist in charge of putting out a vfire,” said Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center in Helena. “(Pruitt) doesn’t even believe in the fundamental mission of the agency he’s supposed to be leading.”
As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt has formed an alliance with the nation’s top energy producers. In doing so, he has earned a heroic reputation for fighting national efforts to counter climate change and roll back federal regulations to the benefit of fossil fuel industries.
Trump himself has called global warming a hoax and has vowed to pull the U.S. from the Paris Accord, which was signed by a broad coalition of nations earlier this year to control the industrial pollutants that are heating the planet.
“People were hopeful Trump wouldn’t be as bad as his rhetoric during the campaign, but this proves that’s not the case,” said Hedges. “Pruitt doesn’t believe in the international treaties, or that climate change is real and threatens our agriculture, our economy, our livelihoods, public health or the environment. This appointment is about as bad as it gets.”
The appointment comes just as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the average U.S. temperature this fall was 4.1 degrees above average, surpassing last fall as the warmest on record.
Last year marked the fourth time this century that a new record high had been set globally, the 39th consecutive year since 1977 that annual temperatures have been above the 20th century average. To date, according to NOAA, 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.
Montana is also expected to get significantly warmer and wetter by mid-century.
“We’re deeply concerned about this nominee for EPA,” said Clayton Elliott, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters in Missoula. “He’s somebody that has deep ties to corporate special interests and has demonstrated that he will put special interests ahead of what’s good for our air and water.”
Elliott, like Hedges, said it was clear on Nov. 9 – the day Trump won the Electoral College – that their conservation work would become more critical. They’ve vowed to double down on their efforts, believing that Montanans value their environment.
They’re also concerned about Pruitt’s push to hand environmental and public health policies back to the states, effectively undercutting the EPA’s role as an unbiased watchdog.
Hedges believes Montana has a poor history regulating industry on its own, naming Libby with its asbestos, the cyanide heap leaching at Zortman-Landusky, the Colstrip ash ponds and the toxic waters in the Berkeley Pit.
“The state failed to do something about those projects until it was too late,” Hedges said. “The states have a conflict of interest. They make money off these projects and there’s intense political pressure. You need a federal backstop that’s divorced from that political pressure to regulate them.”
Several cities in Montana have been working to address climate change, even if only at the local level. The city of Missoula has been a state leader in that arena, adopting a climate plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and creating a position in city government to help implement the efforts.
Climate Smart Missoula was also born from the local efforts, and like others across the state working for a similar cause, the group was disheartened by Trump’s appointment.
“As a group that’s working on climate change locally, we know we can effect change here, but we also know we’re connected to the larger world,” said Amy Cilimburg, the group’s director. “To have someone appointed who has clearly stated that he doesn’t believe in climate change, that he doesn’t believe we should steward our environment and public health, is incredibly concerning.”
Cilimburg, like many other groups in Montana, vowed to keep working with local and state government on climate change and the issues it encompasses. The U.S Senate must approve Pruitt’s nomination, and they’re asking Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines to block it.
“I don’t believe there’s a mandate from the majority of American people to dismantle 40 years of protection for people across the planet. It’s not good economics and it’s not good policy. It seems to be an extreme appointment.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org