Former President Barack Obama’s environmental record was mostly just hot air and built on his willingness to tackle climate change, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt said Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview.
Obama is praised as the gold standard for environmentalism, even though he ignored several environmental disasters, Pruitt told The Washington Examiner in an interview hashing out the Oklahoma Republican’s mission for the agency.
“Everyone looks at the Obama administration as being the environmental savior. Really? He was the environmental savior?” Pruitt asked incredulously before rattling off a list of examples where Obama’s EPA stumbled on environmental matters.
“Well, he left us with more Superfund sites than when he came in,” he said. “He had Gold King [the 2015 mine wastewater spill] and Flint, Michigan [drinking water crisis]. He tried to regulate CO2 twice and flunked twice. Struck out. So what’s so great about that record? I don’t know.”
Pruitt was referring to toxic waste sites folded into the government’s Superfund program, which is intended to clean the most dangerous and polluted places in the U.S. The agency has either been unable or unwilling to decontaminate many of the program’s 1,300 locations, allowing pollution to fester.
Health hazards still either threaten humans or are unknown at 117 – or nearly one-quarter – of the 480 Superfund sites added before 1987, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis conducted in 2016.
He also referenced the Flint water crisis, which became a political flashpoint during Obama’s second term after reports surfaced claiming the city’s drinking water was contaminated with lead. The EPA’s top official for the region resigned after news came out that her office knew about the lead problem for months but ignored red flags.
Nearly 2,000 citizens in the majority-black city filed a $722 million lawsuit earlier this year against the EPA for failing to handle the water crisis. The lawsuit claims the agency failed to take the proper steps to ensure that state and local authorities were addressing the crisis.
Pruitt has been under constant criticism from environmentalists who believe his opposition to fighting climate change could render the Earth uninhabitable within the next several decades. He helped push President Donald Trump earlier this year into leaving the Paris climate agreement, which was signed by Obama and obligated the U.S. begin reducing its carbon emission levels.
He pushed back against many of his critics who are fixated on using hurricanes Irma and Harvey as political weapons against the Trump administration’s climate policies. Both hurricanes slammed the southern portion of the country less than a week apart and caused several billions of dollars in damage.
“The cause and effect of these storms, should that really be the priority right now?” Pruitt said during his Tuesday interview. “When I’ve got Superfund sites to worry about, wastewater treatment facilities and we’ve got drinking water issues and access to fuel issues and power outages. I just think it’s insensitive and it’s absolute misplaced priorities.”
Pruitt’s comments are in line with his goal to refashion the EPA, transitioning the agency from fighting man-made global warming to protecting human health and the environment. Obama tended to prioritize legislation targeting climate change and carbon emission reductions over other regional environmental issues.
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