President-Elect Trump’s selection of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency has drawn swift criticism from environmental and health advocates. Passing the nation’s environmental agency to one of its staunchest opponents risks upending the clean air and clean water that Americans of both parties demand. And looking deeper, Pruitt’s track record suggests he will harm the American economy while increasing pollution.
Here are three ways the Pruitt choice isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s bad for business:
1. Blocking federal methane rules means more wasted American energy
Protecting common sense standards to reduce oil and gas methane emissions is a winning opportunity for American business, but that did not stop Pruitt from suing EPA on its proposed methane rules earlier this year.
Methane is a natural resource, and cutting methane emissions means cutting economic waste. A recent study from ICF International found that drilling on federal and tribal lands – mostly in the rural West -leaked, vented, and flared natural gas worth about $330 million in 2013. Across the U.S., the market value of wasted natural gas is estimated at $2 billion.
Furthermore, there are good jobs at stake keeping methane and other air pollutants in the pipes and out of the air communities breathe. A report by Datu Research identified over 75 firms with over 500 locations across the country putting people to work in the methane mitigation industry. These include well-paying jobs in manufacturing, plus leak detection service jobs that offer technical training and are inherently offshore-proof. With nearly 60% of methane mitigation firms being small businesses, including in states like Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, national efforts to support methane reductions are a job creator at just the right time.
And, many investors recognize that achieving methane reductions is vital if natural gas is to play a constructive role in the transition to a low carbon energy economy. In fact, investors representing over $3.6 trillion in assets under management praised the North American agreement to reduce oil and gas methane emissions 45%. Public pension fund CEO Jack Ehnes wrote that as a large investor with a financial stake in the long term performance of the natural gas industry, CalSTRS sees that “methane emissions — which literally leak away the potential climate benefits of natural gas over other fossil fuels — must be actively managed.”
Most recently, seven in ten Colorado oil and gas operators interviewed about that state’s experience implementing methane rules reported that the benefits of compliance outweighed the costs.
In spite of the jobs and other business benefits of regulating methane emissions, as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt took a page – literally – from a large oil company and sued EPA on its proposed methane rule. This approach may have appeased a big oil backer, but is short-sighted for the industry’s own long-term good, and hurts the American workers whose paycheck comes from preventing and fixing natural gas leaks.
2. Undermining the Clean Power Plan will slow economic growth in clean energy
The Clean Power Plan helps continue the trend of generating even more jobs in fast-growing segments of the American economy, including wind and solar energy, and energy efficiency. Third party estimates suggest that the plan will create 74,000 to 273,000 new jobs in those and related industries, on top of the hundreds of thousands of already existing clean energy jobs. Unfortunately, Pruitt joined a lawsuit against the plan, parroting scare tactic claims that the rule would increase electricity prices.
In reality, the Clean Power plan capitalizes on economic progress many states are already making, such as the rise of solar energy in North Carolina and California. With costs plummeting in solar energy, renewable energy last year accounted for the majority of new installed power capacity.
And because wind and solar are generally more labor-intensive than older energy forms, we can expect a windfall of well-paying, sustainable American jobs in tomorrow’s clean energy economy if we stay the course.
These positive trends are part of why American businesses like Google have committed to sourcing 100% renewable energy. Google and other leading technology companies defended the Clean Power Plan in court because they see that market-oriented government support for clean energy will help their businesses gain access to cheap, clean, stably priced energy for years to come.
In attacking the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt raised the specter of shuttering coal fired plants. However, as a fossil-fuel backer, he should know what experts believe and even natural gas industry insiders privately admit: it is cheap natural gas, not environmental rules, that is mainly responsible for driving coal plants out of business. As CEO of Appalachian Power, a West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee utility said, “You just can’t go with new coal [plants] at this point in time. It is just not economically feasible to do so.”
3. Denying climate is denying a great threat – and opportunity – for business
The days of seeing global climate change as only an environmental issue are over. But while many business leaders acknowledge climate change as the fundamental threat that it is – to infrastructure, supply chains, and national security to name a few – Pruitt says the “debate” on climate change is “far from over”.
The doubt seeded by climate denialism may be fake, but it can inflict business consequences that are real. In a globalized economy, American businesses benefit from our standing in the world and the goodwill we have achieved. With the world marching toward a cleaner energy future, propelled by the climate agreement of nearly 200 nations last year in Paris, American businesses have an interest in standing with the international community and competing on a level playing field.
We have an opportunity to win the next frontier of entrepreneurship and innovation in the clean energy products and ideas demanded the world over. Yet, Pruitt would likely become the only environmental chief in the world who doubts climate change. This anomaly would isolate and embarrass America. In short, the opposite of what businesses need to hear as America competes with China and others to seize the mantle of leadership on a global economic opportunity.
There are many capable environmental leaders from across the political and philosophical spectrum. America needs leaders to chart a path of environmental stewardship and economic prosperity. Mr. Pruitt’s record suggests he would do neither.