Before he was EPA administrator, before he was Oklahoma’s attorney general, before he was even a state senator, Scott Pruitt was an unknown attorney in the suburbs of Tulsa, Oklahoma. What do Scott Pruitt’s early days in public life tell us about his beliefs and motivations as he sets about dismantling EPA regulations?
On the latest episode of our podcast, Trump on Earth, we talk to two reporters who dug into this question to find out more about the man who is leading the EPA. Joe Wertz is a reporter for State Impact Oklahoma and Tom Dreisbach is a producer for the NPR podcast Embedded.
For the Embedded podcast, Wertz and Dreisbach went to Pruitt’s hometown and visited the megachurch he’s belonged to for decades, First Baptist Broken Arrow. The church’s goal, its website proclaims, “is to reach everyone that we can with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Broken Arrow, Tulsa, Oklahoma, North America, and the Ends of the Earth.” Nick Garland is the pastor there, and Pruitt has developed a strong relationship with him over the years that continues to this day.
“They talk regularly. They pray together regularly,” Wertz says. “And it’s clear that their interpretation of the Christian faith has a lot of influence on Pruitt’s [interpretation] and how Pruitt sees government and the role of government, ranging on all sorts of issues from abortion to the environment.”
Throughout his career, Dreisbach and Wertz say, Pruitt has gotten both spiritual and political strength from the church. They argue that Pruitt’s environmental philosophy is shaped by a specific religious doctrine of the Southern Baptist church. They asked Pastor Garland about the role of the church and God in the environment.
“And what he said is that it’s man’s responsibility to protect the environment and to conserve the environment, but also to use the environment,” Dreisbach says. “That God put the natural resources here for people to use, and to better their lives and the lives of others. And part of that message is conserving it and protecting it but also using it.”
One of the most interesting things that the two say they discovered in their reporting is that even though Scott Pruitt is now the head of the EPA, for many years his politics really had nothing to do with the environment. His platform for the 2010 attorney general’s race, for example, included barely a mention of the environment. Instead, the focus was on faith-based issues like abortion and religious freedom, and also popular conservative ideology like immigration control and ending Obamacare.
“I think that gives us a sense that his goals were often to get a national platform for these broader conservative ideals of reducing regulation, cutting red tape, and supporting business in the country,” Wertz says. “And I think the open question now is what do all of these ethics scandals at the EPA mean for his ambitions more broadly.”
LISTEN to the entire episode to hear more about how Pruitt’s faith shapes his views on the environment, and how he dealt with a major pollution case when he was attorney general of Oklahoma.
You can also hear the entire excellent episode of Embedded that Joe Wertz and Tom Dreisbach produced HERE.