U. S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s impartiality has been questioned after his recent interview with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). Last week NCBA released an audio and video of Pruitt urging producers to submit official comments on the repeal of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule before the agency’s August 28, 2017 deadline.
Critics, however, say Pruitt inaccurately uses industry talking points to describe the WOTUS rule, and that his comments sound as if he has already made up his mind about WOTUS regardless of the comments posted to EPA’s site.
"When comments are made a part of a record - as rule-making - we have an obligation to review them," Pruitt says in NCBA's video. "It helps inform our decision-making process; it helps us make better decisions. And so we want farmers and ranchers across this country to provide comments."But the video directs viewers to BeefUSA.org for filing comments on the proposed repeal, where NCBA calls on producers to, "Take Action Now — Tell EPA to Kill WOTUS." It offers a link to the Federal Register and provides "sample comments" that readers can "copy and paste (or modify)."
Jeffrey Lubbers, a specialist in administrative law at American University's Washington College of Law, told E&E News, "This kind of behavior by an agency makes the rulemaking process seem like it is not really open-minded and that public participation doesn't really matter that much because certain commenters would be treated as more favorably than other commenters."
In response to questions about the video, EPA issued a statement describing the logistics that went into its production.
"As Administrator Pruitt says in the video, receiving public comments from across the country helps EPA make informed decisions on proposed rules," an EPA spokeswoman said. "Just like the Administrator's countless other interviews, there was no script and no cost to EPA to accommodate the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's request for a brief interview regarding EPA's State Action Tour and WOTUS."
NCBA spokesman Ed Frank described the video to E&E News as an innocuous request for public comments. The video directs viewers to the group's webpage, he said, because "BeefUSA.org" is easier to remember than the Federal Register website.
The video was filmed on a Colorado ranch during Pruitt's "State Action Tour." Frank said the cattlemen coordinated with EPA's Office of Public Affairs to score a "five-minute interview" with the administrator after a ranch visit that was arranged by the trade group.
In the video, Pruitt tells "farmers and ranchers across this country" that by repealing the regulation, EPA is "trying to fix it." That comment, and the fact that Pruitt sued the EPA over WOTUS while he served as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, gives the impression he has already determined the WOTUS rule will be repealed.
Critics also note that during a visit to Iowa last month, Pruitt was photographed holding a sign that says, "It's time to Ditch the Rule," with those photos posted to social media. Pruitt’s actions, critics claim, are evidence of the EPA Administrator promoting “propaganda” about WOTUS rather than appearing objective to the issues.