The five of you reading this as your sole information source may have missed that via his favorite media for releasing information – Twitter – U.S. President Donald Trump announced this afternoon that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned, and will be replaced by Deputy EPA Administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler.
We have seldom reported on Pruitt’s disgraceful tenure as the head of the EPA, as his work rarely directly intersected with renewable energy. Among the many environmental measures dismantled by the EPA under the former Oklahoma Attorney General’s particularly destructive reign, the Clean Power Plan was the only one that directly dealt with solar or wind.
For that matter, in the words of BNEF Analyst Nathan Serota, CPP was a “trend-following” policy, not a trend-leading one. It was also one that had an uncertain impact on the future of solar and wind.
It is also true that Wheeler, a former lobbyist for Murray Energy, shows just as much favoritism for fossil fuels as Pruitt did. In fact, New York Times and others have suggested that Wheeler may be particularly effective at dismantling regulations, as he keeps a lower profile and is unlikely to become embroiled in the personal scandals that his former boss had a penchant for.
Additionally, there is the possibility that Wheeler may take apart regulations in a way that is less subject to legal challenge.
Regardless, we at pv magazine feel that the removal of Pruitt is a win for renewable energy. Here’s why: Separate from broader political issues, the entire Trump Administration has demonstrated that it is pro-fossil fuel and to a lesser degree pro-nuclear, and by being so, is anti-renewable energy. This is most clear by the attempts to remake wholesale power markets to favor fossil fuels and nuclear power, which could have definite affects on renewable energy’s ability to compete, but has taken many forms. By forcing Pruitt to step down, opponents of the Trump agenda – including his 19th century energy agenda – have scored a win.
And well beyond any brief disruption of work at EPA, there is a sense that the Trump Administration is vulnerable. Both polling data and the momentum of crises including child separation at the U.S. border suggest a loss for Republicans in 2018, and potentially a loss of the presidency in 2020 – if not sooner.
For those seeking longer-term positions at agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), this could suggest that working for the Trump Administration will be a short-term post, and that actions they take could make them toxic to future administrations seeking to remove the stain of a scandal-filled presidency.
This is also likely to embolden those within the federal government who have resisted attempts by Trump and Perry to cook data and bend laws.
There is evidence that suggests that these actions have been highly meaningful to date. The leaking of a draft of the Department of Energy (DOE) grid study undermined the final study’s pre-determined conclusion that a coal and nuclear bailout was necessary. Whistleblower Simon Edelman’s photos of Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray directing Energy Secretary Rick Perry to design this bailout may have also been a factor in the chain of events that led FERC to ultimately reject DOE’s orders to craft an emergency rule.
We don’t know what the rest of the Trump presidency will bring, and we are most certainly not out of the fire with the removal of Pruitt. But it is a step in the right direction, and under this administration we can use all of the wins that we get. Tonight the momentum is on our side.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.