December 7 marked the anniversary of one of the most notorious attacks in U.S. history, when the Empire of Japan attacked American naval and military forces at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor. The nation was instantly plunged into mourning – and war. President Roosevelt told a shocked world that December 7 was “a date which will live in infamy.” Earlier this week, on this somber anniversary, President-elect Donald Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. While a cabinet appointment can never compare to the more than 2,400 American lives lost on that day in 1941, I fear that, for those of us who care passionately about the world’s oceans, this date will once again “live in infamy.”
The EPA currently stands at the forefront of the fight against climate change. Under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, unveiled last year, the EPA sets emission reductions goals for power plants and states. The plan is designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent by 2030 (based on a 2005 baseline). Power plant emissions of other pollutants that cause harmful smog and soot – like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – would also be reduced. The EPA Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to meet the commitments made in the Paris Agreement.
One of the many downstream effects of climate change is ocean acidification. The oceans absorb much of the carbon dioxide that we emit. And when that carbon dioxide dissolves into our oceans, it increases the acidity of the water. According to NOAA, the oceans have increased in acidity by about 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution. Preventing further acidification by addressing climate change is crucial for the health of the oceans: among other changes, the chemical shifts caused by acidification hinder shell development in important species of shellfish and corals, threatening their survival and potentially disrupting the entire ocean food web.
With so much at stake, the head of the EPA must be someone with a firm commitment to sound environmental stewardship and a sense of responsibility to future generations. From this point of view, the Pruitt announcement is a travesty. Calling Pruitt “an aggressively bad choice,” the New York Times Editorial Board wrote: “Had Donald Trump spent an entire year scouring the country for someone to weaken clean air and clean water laws and repudiate America’s leadership role in the global battle against climate change, he could not have found a more suitable candidate than Scott Pruitt.”
As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt collaborated with other attorneys general and oil and gas companies to fight the EPA, even sending an accusatory letter to the agency that was actually “written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying,” according to a New York Times investigation. For years, he has collaborated with the fossil fuel industry to fight efforts to address climate change – through lawsuits and activism – in exchange for a growing national profile and millions of dollars in political contributions.
But we don’t have to rely on the New York Times to know that this man is unfit to lead the EPA. Indeed, Pruitt calls himself a leading advocate against the EPA on his own LinkedIn page.
The Trump administration has not yet taken power, but through personnel decisions we can begin to understand what the next four years may look like. The Pruitt appointment is the antithesis of what ocean advocates should hope for. This week’s announcement is one more sign that groups like Oceana and our allies will be vitally important voices for ocean protection in the years ahead, because hope is rapidly diminishing that such voices will be present at cabinet meetings.
For the oceans,