Harry Reid made a momentous decision in 2013 when he was the Senate's majority leader and chose to deploy the so-called "nuclear option." By doing so, he ensured that with a simple-majority vote and the collaboration of the upper chamber's parliamentarian, he could deprive the minority of the ability to block controversial executive branch nominees.
As a result, no amount of Democratic partisanship alone will be sufficient to sink President-elect Trump's Cabinet nominations. Thanks to Reid, no matter how much Democrats rail against the choice of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to be administrator of the EPA, he will surely be confirmed.
This is welcome, for Pruitt will make a fine EPA administrator.
For eight years, the Obama administration has worked as hard as possible to expand EPA power in ways that have harmed or still threaten to harm states' economies, all without creating any appreciable corresponding benefit in terms of either global warming or human health. Pruitt, a state attorney general with experience in the courts suing EPA to prevent it from overreaching, is an ideal candidate to come in and move the agency in a more productive direction.
The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and its mercury rule (both of which are tied up in the courts) are often and rightly cited for their role in hastening the demise of coal states' economies with minimal benefit to the environment.
Often overlooked is the Obama EPA's decision in 2015 to ratchet down ozone standards, which could have broader implications for more states. The new standards for airborne pollution and natural background levels of ozone make compliance impossible for most states. The new standard could thus subject much of the population, including all developed parts of California and nearly all of Pruitt's home state of Oklahoma, to ozone nonattainment status. This would erect federal barriers to business development and especially industrial and manufacturing employment in the places where people actually live.
In justifying the cost of the ozone standard, Obama's EPA used another abusive tactic on which it often relies, and which hopefully Pruitt will end. EPA argued that although its new standard could not pass a cost-benefit test on its own terms, it was nevertheless justified because it was likely to reduce emissions of other pollutants too. But this reliance on "co-benefits" is sophistry. Those other pollutants are separately regulated by EPA at levels that had to be justified on their own merits through scientific studies and subjected to their own comment periods and other rigors of federal rulemaking.
Pruitt is also familiar with yet another EPA abuse, which he once sued unsuccessfully to stop. The agency invites lawsuits from radical environmental groups, then quickly settles them on terms that delight the litigants, agreeing not only to impose tougher rules that harm livelihoods, but sometimes even to award legal fees, at taxpayers' expense, to the environmentalists who sued.
Pruitt is an excellent choice to run the EPA because all of this abusive bureaucratic behavior needs to stop. He comes from a part of the world with which Obama's EPA seems unfamiliar, the part where people still need to work for a living, and the part that just cost Obama's party the presidency.
Trump's victory and his confirmation might give the public a chance to see how badly regulators can hold back an economy. In any event, it's time for the bureaucrats at EPA to learn that their power derives from Congress and from the people who elect it, not from their having won life's lottery and obtained a high-paying federal job.