Jason Arias
Josh Fruhlinger,  June 14

Let’s Do It, Pruitt!

Trump's EPA administrator has a closet full of frivolous lawsuits, sketchy real estate deals, and mattresses

Jason Arias
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Reader: Are you someone who is angry in an inchoate way at the Trump administration as an institution but who would prefer to focus your anger like a laser beam on specific individuals? We at The Baffler are here to help! As a wise man once told my father while trying to sell him a program at a Knicks game, “They’re just a bunch of tall guys in shorts, without a program”—and so, too, the various hangers-on in the Trump orbit may seem to be just a bunch of transparent grifters and/or terrifying ideologues in suits unless you have a clear guide for who the players are. We plan to bring you the key stats and career highlights of all the best people in the administration, as well as those who are “too hot” for government service and end up bounced out to the 2020 campaign, various 501(c)3 scams, or who just end up on the semi-consensual receiving end of those rambling “executive time” phone calls. This week: the man so committed to environmental activism he’s personally making sure old mattresses are properly disposed of, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt!

Scott Pruitt is—let’s be up front about this—a legend. He’s spent his tenure as head of the EPA dogged by scandal after scandal, ethical lapse after ethical lapse, and yet unlike fellow unlikeable white-haired southerner Tom Price, has singularly failed to resign in disgrace. You have to respect someone who manages to stay in a cabinet level position despite having a Wikipedia article with a “Controversies” section that looks like this:

And that doesn’t even cover the lotion thing! And the mattress thing! But we’re not here to rehash Pruitt’s cabinet-level career foibles. No, we’re going to look back to his life as a legislator and attorney general in his home state of Oklahoma and take a fun trip through all his past foibles! There were a lot of them, it turns out. Maybe enough of them that he shouldn’t have been nominated or confirmed as EPA head? We’re just spitballin’ here!

Scott Pruitt had innovative ideas about fetuses! Generally, the anti-abortion movement is big on trying to ascribe legal personhood to fetuses, and one of their grand rhetorical moves is to compare the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade to 1857’s widely reviled pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford. But that didn’t stop young Oklahoma State Senator Scott Pruitt from coming up with an interesting theory: what if fetuses were people, but also property, specifically the property of their fathers? Under this theory, the right to choose would be preserved—but granted only to men, a reasonable centrist compromise that failed to catch on for some reason.

Scott Pruitt owned a baseball team! Remember how George W. Bush hooked up with some rich dudes to buy the Texas Rangers, got to run a baseball team for a while, then sold his share for a bunch of money? Scott Pruitt did it too, on a much less Texas-sized scale! As a thirty-five year-old state senator making less than $40K a year, Pruitt went in with big GOP donor Robert Funk to buy the minor league Oklahoma City RedHawks for a seven-figure sum (we assume Pruitt’s contribution was crucial to closing this deal). He got to have fun doing baseball stuff for a while, like networking with the oil-industry elite of Oklahoma, before he cashed out his share of the team for an undisclosed profit. Neat!

Scott Pruitt is really into sharing houses with people! Remember how Scott Pruitt was paying $50 per night in D.C. to crash the spare bedroom of a friend’s condo, like it was an AirBNB or something, which seemed kind of endearingly thrifty until it turned out that his “friend” was actually the wife of an energy lobbyist who hosted GOP fundraisers there? Well, back in Oklahoma City he went further, setting up a shell company with some friends to buy a house for them to stay in when they were in town. Definitely nothing weird is going on in your life when you satisfy your housing needs by setting up a shell corporation! Said friends included Justin Whitefield, a lobbyist who was keen to make it easier for businesses to get out of paying worker’s comp, and the aforementioned Robert Funk, who in addition to being a minor league baseball magnate was also the owner of a big staffing firm—a business that, in a total coincidence, would benefit greatly from rules that make it easier for employers to get out of paying worker’s comp. You’ll never guess what Senator Pruitt’s take on worker’s comp rules was! (He thought they made it too hard for businesses to get out of paying worker’s comp.)

Scott Pruitt loved suing the federal government! In 2010 Pruitt was elected Oklahoma attorney general, and almost immediately quashed the Environmental Protection Unit, the division of his agency dedicated to environmental law, and instead set up a “federalism unit” dedicated to suing the federal government for infringing the rights of Oklahomans—like the right to not have health insurance, the right to keep out immigrants, and, of course, the right to pollute. Pruitt sued the EPA fourteen times, and then he was put in charge of it! (He didn’t win any of those lawsuits.) Sometimes the mean legal notes he sent to the EPA on his official letterhead were written by lawyers for Oklahoma energy companies, which strikes us as very efficient. And one of the lawsuits was filed in concert with big Oklahoma energy companies and trade groups, including a group run by Harold G. Hamm, who had co-chaired his re-election campaign, which strikes us as very loyal!

Before you come to the conclusion that Scott Pruitt is some sort of sue-happy maniac, just think about all the prosecutions and lawsuits that he decided not to launch.

But he didn’t spend all his time fighting Obama-administration overreach. He also tried suing California and the Humane Society of the United States for not buying eggs from Oklahoma’s caged hens, and tried suing Colorado for legalizing marijuana that could accidentally drift over the border into Oklahoma. He lost both of those lawsuits, too. He also got involved in a tangle over execution drugs, with differing courts issuing differing directives on their use, a conflict he called a “constitutional crisis“; Pruitt was on the pro-death side that won the right to carry out a contested execution, which ended up being horribly botched.  

Scott Pruitt sometimes didn’t want to sue people, though! Before you come to the conclusion that Scott Pruitt is some sort of sue-happy maniac, just think about all the prosecutions and lawsuits that he decided not to launch. For instance, he bravely decided that the federal government and the other forty-nine state attorneys general were overreaching when it came to judicially forcing mortgage companies to take some kind of responsibility for the housing crash. Conveniently, Oklahoma still got the money it would’ve gotten if it had participated in the fun!  

He also failed to prosecute anyone in the tangled effort to buy out homeowners in the town of Tar Creek, which was built on top of mines and destroyed by pollution, despite numerous claims of favoritism and corruption. He didn’t even release the report on the affair because it might’ve besmirched the good names of the people he decided not to prosecute, who are definitely innocent!

Scott Pruitt really wants a used Trump mattress! OK, but . . . what about that mattress, though. What was he going to use it for? To sleep on? And if so, what’s he sleeping on now?

Josh Fruhlinger, a writer in Los Angeles, will be portraying for Baffler readers the key players in the ever-changing Trump administration. 

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