Speeches

I am proud to rise today in support of Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. I can think of no one who is better suited or more qualified to lead this agency and to advance within it the reforms it so desperately needs. I look forward to voting to confirm Mr. Pruitt as EPA Administrator, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.

In many ways, the EPA epitomizes the broken status quo in Washington that is increasingly – and rightly – viewed with suspicion and contempt by the American people.

That broken, discredited status quo has been described in various ways… Out-of-touch. Overbearing. Arbitrary. Inflexible. Heavy-handed. Unaccountable.

These words could apply to any number of institutions or offices in Washington, but they are the hallmarks of the rule-writing departments that make up the federal bureaucracy.

Technically, these bureaucratic agencies are creatures of the Executive Branch that exist to assist the president in fulfilling his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws [written by the Legislative Branch] be faithfully executed.” But over the past several decades, they have been recast as the federal government’s center of gravity, both writing and enforcing the vast majority of “laws” governing America’s society and economy.  

Elevating the unelected bureaucracy to the driver’s seat of federal policymaking is mostly the work of members of Congress of both parties, who understand that the best way to avoid being blamed by voters for unpopular laws is to empower unelected bureaucrats to make the laws for them.

But the regulatory agencies themselves deserve some of the blame too.

Congress is guilty of writing laws that are couched in vague terms, centered around gauzy goals instead of strictly defined rules. But federal regulators are guilty of interpreting – and repeatedly reinterpreting – those laws to accommodate their ever-expanding conception of their own power.

For instance, in the years since Congress first passed the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1977, federal bureaucrats have used the law to enact more than 13,500 pages of regulations – which works out to roughly 30 pages of regulations for every one page of legislative text.

The fundamental problem with this expansion and centralization of regulatory authority is the tendency of Washington bureaucrats to be ignorant of – and often indifferent to – the interests of the people who live in the communities that are affected by their rules.

This isn’t a knock on the men and women who work in the federal bureaucracy, most of whom are well-educated and well-intentioned. But there’s no doubt that a regulator in Washington, DC, knows less about a melon farm in Emery County, Utah – and cares less about the fate of the people who work there – than a regulator in Salt Lake City.

The Environmental Protection Agency is notorious for this top-down, Washington-knows-best approach to regulation, which runs roughshod over the immense diversity of local circumstances in our large country. Too often, the EPA treats states and state regulators not as partners but as adversaries.

Scott Pruitt understands this well, because he has seen it first-hand. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has spent many years being ignored and pushed around by Washington – an experience that has taught him the need for the EPA to work with, not condescend to, the states.

In his Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Pruitt explained why improving the relationship between the EPA and state-level regulators is the best way to protect our environment and uphold the separation of powers that is the cornerstone of our constitutional system. He said:

Cooperative federalism is at the heart of many of the environmental statutes that [involve the Environmental Protection Agency]. The reason for that is [that] it’s the states that many times have the resources, the expertise, and an understanding of the unique challenges of [protecting our] environment and improving our water and our air […] We need a partnership, a true partnership, between the EPA in performing its role, along with the states in performing theirs. And if we have that partnership, as opposed to punishment, as opposed to uncertainty and duress that we currently see in the marketplace, I think we’ll have better air and better water quality as a result.

For many Americans – and certainly for many of my fellow Utahns – the EPA is a pejorative…it’s synonymous with an out-of-touch and out-of-control federal government.

This is a shame. Americans want – and deserve – clean air and clean water. And the EPA has the potential to help them achieve these goals, but only if it returns to its core mission and does it well.

That’s why I’m so pleased that Scott Pruitt is on his way to lead the EPA. The agency exists to protect the American people, not advance the narrow agenda of some special interests while punishing others. I am confident that Pruitt is the right man for the job and will remain independent while correcting the troubling course that the EPA has taken in recent decades.

Thank you.