Annotated Version of Scott Pruitt's First Speech to the EPA, February 21, 2017

Christopher Sellers's picture

Below you will find the introduction--and here is the link--to an annotated guide to Scott Pruitt’s first address to the EPA on behalf of a new group, the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, founded by environmentally interested academics including some historians. With the attached annotated commentary, EDGI scholars seek to explicate and decode the messages sent by the new Administrator and place them in a larger, more genuinely hisstorical perspective.

Scott Pruitt's First Address to the EPA: 

As Annotated by a Group of Academics, Social Scientists, Historians, and

Environmental Researchers (EDGI).

February 21, 2017

Tuesday at noon in at the EPA Headquarters in Washington, new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

addressed the agency’s employees for the first time. The speech was notable for what it said, from

the history it cited to the principles it enunciated to its choice of words. Most significantly the

address left unsaid the legacies and obligations and thorny implications of EPA’s mission and

history. The address did not mention any of the many EPA programs nor the federal laws EPA is

charged with enforcing. To help explicate and decode the messages sent by the new Administrator,

EDGI offers the following annotated commentary. This commentary is not meant to be exhaustive or

provide evidence of intention, but rather to provide further information where it may have been in

short supply. "


Overall the speech offered little encouragement to citizens, scientists, regulators, and communities

concerned about the future of EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment or its

commitment to evidence-based governance. Pruitt said nothing about the history that actually gave

rise to the EPA, but instead invoked a much more distant past, shaped by backroom deals among

“great men” and an ethno-nationalist “Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism.” The mid-20th century failures

of the states to effectively control pollution catalyzed a broad bi-partisan consensus around federal

Clean Air and Water Acts, along with a new federal agency to interpret and enforce them.1 Pruitt’s

speech, on the other hand, lauded federalism and suggested a return of these powers back to the

states. Pruitt’s declaration that “regulation exists to give certainty to the regulated” ignored the

frequent failures of businesses and markets either to acknowledge or address their environmental

impacts, a blind spot which has compelled support of the EPA’s work over many decades by

Republicans and Democrats alike. Finally, Pruitt’s emphasis solely on statutory law neglected just

how dependent the agency’s mission has been--and continues to be-- on science, scientists, and

evidence. Historically these have served as the EPA’s chief window into what environmental

impacts actually are, and how they should be addressed.