Environmental groups are looking at a new wave of lawsuits and pressure campaigns to counter Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's plans to reorganize the agency and get businesses to not cooperate with him.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is looking at options to sue Pruitt over his enforcement policy after last week's reporting by the New York Times that showed the Trump administration is penalizing polluters at a much lower level than previous Republican and Democratic administrations.
The EPA said the Times "distorted" the facts. "The reality is that Administrator Scott Pruitt is committed to enforcement [and] has repeatedly underscored the need to continue to vigorously enforce against polluters."
The NRDC cites a memorandum that lays out Pruitt's enforcement strategy, which the group said could form the basis of a major new lawsuit charging that his new direction for the agency violates the Clean Air Act.
“An agency like EPA may not issue guidance that relieves regulated industries of legal obligations, unless the agency first undertakes notice-and-comment rulemaking that provides the public fair opportunities to comment and oppose unlawful or harmful actions. The Trump EPA did not do this,” according to John Walke, NRDC’s director for clean air policy, in a recent post.
While NRDC mulls its options, “nothing in the administrator’s action stops states, public health and environmental groups, and ordinary citizens from bringing enforcement lawsuits to uphold clean air protections that the Trump administration proclaims it will not,” Walke wrote.
The group also plans to submit a Freedom of Information Act request soon to obtain all records related to the development of Pruitt’s enforcement policy contained in a memo issued earlier this month after the EPA chief appeared before the House energy committee for the first time as administrator.
“Congress and EPA’s Office of Inspector General also should investigate these deeply troubling actions,” according to Walke.
Other environmental groups are going after large companies that have been offered a chance to collaborate with Pruitt, because they believe it is cover for "destroying the agency's ability to do its job," according to the Environmental Working Group.
Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook sent an aggressively worded letter to James Lentz, the CEO of Toyota North America, to reject any partnership with Pruitt or risk betraying the company's commitment to good environmental stewardship.
Pruitt had told the Energy and Commerce Committee that he was asking Toyota to partner with him on improving management effectiveness at the agency.
"Nothing in Mr. Pruitt's actions or public statements to date as head of the EPA, or in his prior role as Oklahoma's attorney general, suggests that he comes to issues of EPA's performance, management and effectiveness with an impartial interest in improving the agency through any management techniques," Cook wrote. "To the contrary, Mr. Pruitt already has an overarching objective for the EPA: to destroy its ability to achieve its mission."
The group urged Lentz to "immediately and unambiguously announce Toyota's rejection of any partnership with EPA" or Pruitt, according to the letter. "To do otherwise risks irreparable harm to Toyota's brand and reputation in the American marketplace."