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Why Scott Pruitt Must Go

Photo by Mike Licht | CC BY 2.0

The simple and inescapable truth is that Montana has been ravaged by mining and industrial activities. That’s why we have a rather daunting list of federal Superfund sites in what we still call “the last best place.” And that’s why Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, must be replaced by someone who understands both the gravity of the situation when vast areas are polluted by toxic wastes and the necessity to prevent such environmental disasters in the future.

Although Trump boasted — as he does frequently — that he would hire “only the best people” in his administration, the constant stream of those exiting their jobs due to corruption, abuse of federal facilities, extravagant and unnecessary expenditures of taxpayer dollars, and general ignorance of and disdain for law and regulations make it obvious the president was lying to the citizenry once again — something he also does frequently.

The truth, so rare these days, is that Pruitt was one of the EPA’s worst critics and avowed enemies prior to his appointment to head the agency. And of course since Trump knows virtually nothing about science or the environment, it’s no surprise he’d pick such an unqualified individual as a critical part of his cabinet. After all, when you live in a penthouse high above New York’s clogged avenues, getting out in the natural environment isn’t exactly a regular occurrence or high priority.

But for those of us who live in the natural environment, as virtually all Montanans do, having toxic sites that pollute our water, air, land, fisheries and wildlife — as well as threaten the lives and well-being of our citizens — is a big deal. A real big deal.

Butte’s Berkeley Pit sits right at the very headwaters of the mighty Columbia River, which travels 1,243 miles before it reaches the Pacific Ocean. The toxins that seep from the Clark Fork Superfund Site, the largest in the nation, go nowhere but downhill and will likely do so in perpetuity. And they are the sole responsibility, under the existing laws, of the EPA’s Superfund program and Scott Pruitt.

We’d be in plenty enough trouble if Butte and Anaconda were our only toxic waste sites. But they are not — far from it. We have numerous Burlington-Northern sites polluted by diesel and solvents from more than a century of railroad operations, the long list of mining-related sites from Zortmann-Landusky to Libby’s asbestos-polluted environs are scattered across Montana. Solvents and wood preservatives have poisoned groundwater in Bozeman, Libby, Butte and Lockwood. Then there are the latest candidates — Smurfit-Stone Container in Missoula, which drains right into the confluence of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers, and the Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant.

Pruitt, meanwhile, is under investigation for his vast abuses of his position. From first-class flights, both domestic and international, to reassigning career professionals who disparaged his reckless expenditures, renting an apartment from an industry lobbyist, demanding a 20-person “security detail,” a bulletproof limo and a soundproof phone booth, Pruitt has as little concern for taxpayer dollars as he has for a clean and healthy environment.

But if all those ethical and fiscal excesses weren’t enough to demand Pruitt’s immediate resignation, the fact that he is rushing to strip existing regulations on polluting industries is reason enough. No one deserves to live in industrial pollution and the Montana Constitution guarantees us a “clean and healthful environment.” Creating new Superfund sites to threaten us, our kids, and grandkids is simply unforgivable. And for that reason alone, Scott Pruitt must go.

 

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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