Friday, January 11, 2019

#2130: Scott Pruitt

A.k.a. King of the swamp

Ok, we’ll be (relatively) brief. Scott Pruitt, an Oklahoma lawyer, was Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from February 2017 to July 2018, at which point he was under at least 14 separate federal investigations by the Government Accountability Office, the EPA inspector general, the White House Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, and two House committees over his spending habits, conflicts of interests, extreme secrecy, and management practices. Almost a model representative of the Swamp, Pruitt’s main contributions while in office was to successfully partially dismantle his own agency and managing to take baldfaced corruption and misuse of government funds to cover personal expenses to almost unprecedented levels; randomly selected examples here, here and here (ok, that last one was only semi-randomly selected)). His main qualifications for his position, apart from being a Trump sycophant and zealous but deranged wingnut denialist, was his history of filing numerous lawsuits against the EPA over the better part of a decade, all of which had failed.

For our purposes, Pruitt’s main qualification for an entry here is his climate change denialism. In March 2017, Pruitt, who has no scientific background whatsoever, stated that he “would not agree that” carbon dioxide is “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see” since “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact.” This is false, and also contradicts the EPA’s public stance, as stated on the website – though right after Pruitt’s announcement, the EPA also announced that the website “would be undergoing changes to better represent the new direction the agency is taking,” including “the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information,” in particular those that contradicted Pruitt’s statement (some details of the changes are described here). A few days later, Pruitt fired a number of scientists from the agency’s 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors to replace them with industry representatives, and later in 2017, he purged the EPA advisory panels and forbade any scientist who receives a grant from the EPA from then serving on them. By December 2017 over 200 scientists had left the EPA, to be replaced with industry representatives more attuned to Pruitt’s own views. In March 2018, Pruitt proposed to restrict the EPA from considering research that relies on confidential information, such as medical data, apparently because of “scientific transparency”. It is safe to say that the motivation was not transparency. Pruitt and other agency heads also delayed the public release of the Climate Change Report within the National Climate Assessment, for obvious reasons.

His understanding of science, evidence assessment and critical thinking is brilliantly illustrated by his June 2017 suggestion, at a board meeting of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (a climate change denialist organization), that he would arrange public debates on the human role in climate change modelled after a “red team blue team” exercise, since scientific questions are best settled by rhetorical skills and charisma in brief political discussions. The reason for the format is of course a deliberate balance fallacy: to make it look like a debate between two equally respectable sides, as if there is no scientific consensus on the issue and that pseudoscientific denialism is on equal footing with regard to the evidence. 

During his tenure, Pruitt was also part of Ralph Drollinger’s weekly Bible study meetings for members of Congress and Trump’s Cabinet, which warned (among other things) that America is in the process of shifting from Christianity to the “false religion of Radical Environmentalism.” According to Drollinger, it is unbiblical to believe that mankind’s actions could destroy the Earth (also, “[t]o allow fish to govern the construction of dams, endangered species to govern power plants, flies to govern hospitals, or kangaroo rats, homes, is to miss the clear proclamation of God in Genesis”).

Of course, Pruitt’s poor grasp of science – and associated dismissal of it – is not restricted to climate science. Pruitt is also a creationist, saying that evolution “is a philosophical and not scientific matter” and claiming that “[t]here aren’t sufficient scientific facts to establish the theory of evolution.” Of course, Pruitt wouldn’t be able to distinguish a scientific fact from a deranged delusion if his life (or at least money) depended on it. He has also lamented that “minority religionsare pushing Christianity aside in the US (he had the backing of the religious right to the end, true to the religious right’s complete, systematic and proud lack of concern for ethical issues), advocated for Constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and abortion, and claimed that when courts make decisions he disagrees with we are talking about a tyranny executed a “judicial monarchy.”

He resigned in July 2018, but his resignation hardly improved things.

Diagnosis: One of the most spineless, morally corrupt, deranged and dangerous people to walk the face of the Earth.

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