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Pruitt delivered the speech from Consol Energy mine in Harvey, Pennsylvania, which in 2016 was fined $3 million for sending millions of pounds of toxic materials into tributaries of the Ohio River. (Photo: AP)

Pruitt's Coal Mine Speech Heralds Resurrection of "Dirty Polluting Past"

EPA chief outlined vision for agency which guts environmental protections and bolsters fossil fuel industries

Nadia Prupis

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday hailed a new era of environmental deregulation in a speech that took place in a coal mine recently fined for polluting local waterways.

Pruitt, who earlier that day called for the U.S. to exit the Paris climate deal, said the new EPA would focus on bolstering jobs in the fossil fuel industries, such as coal, oil, and gas, and would gut rules on fighting climate change, protecting water, and keeping a lid on vehicle emissions.

"The coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President [Donald] Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners and for many other hardworking Americans," he said.

Pruitt delivered the speech from Consol Energy mine in Harvey, Pennsylvania, which in 2016 was fined $3 million for sending millions of pounds of toxic materials into tributaries of the Ohio River from 2006 to 2015. As Environment America's clean water program director John Rumpler noted Thursday, Pruitt's vision for the EPA and the Trump administration's proposed budget would make it harder for the agency to hold polluters like Consol accountable in the future.

Among Pruitt's proposals are repealing the Clean Water Rule, which protects tributaries, along with more than half of U.S. streams, Rumpler noted. And the Trump administration has already paused an Obama-era rule that aimed to limit the dumping of toxic metals produced by power plants into the nation's waterways.

"So repealing the rule could leave companies like Consol with a license to pollute. Even local citizens would lack legal recourse to stop illegal pollution of such tributaries," he said.

"Finally...Pruitt's decision to extol the virtues of a coal mine flies in the face of everything we know about the science of climate change and the economics of energy policy," Rumper added. "We need to stop burning dirty coal for the future of the planet, and increasingly, low-cost renewables like wind and solar are leading the way. Pruitt's Thursday visit to Consol is a throwback to the dirty polluting past."

The Trump administration's budget proposal would also cut EPA funding by 31 percent and lay off 25 percent of its employees. Last week, a 30-year staffer quit with a public letter to Pruitt warning him that "many EPA staff are becoming [increasingly] alarmed about the direction of EPA under your leadership."

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