Scott Pruitt Is Wrong About the Origins of the EPA,” Washington Post, July 14, 2017.
In which I point out that the EPA was deliberately created as an independent agency so that its mission would not conflict with issues of resource and economic development. Although it’s pretty basic to environmental law, I also make it clear that Congress gave the EPA considerable legal authority over the states, and that the original EPA was conceived of having a broad, flexible mission. And it strove to be an aggressive enforcer from the beginning.

The Environmental Protection Agency Is Not the Nation’s Janitor,” The Guardian, July 28, 2017.
In which I argue that Pruitt’s notion that the EPA should go back to an original mission of “cleaning up” the land and water is mistaken. The EPA’s original mission was preventing pollution, not cleaning up after polluters. To the extent that it got into pollution cleanup through the Superfund program – in 1980, ten years after the creation of the agency – it did so with the idea that polluting industries should pay for cleanup, not the general population. However, the Republican Congress in the 1990s refused to renew provisions of the Superfund program that taxed polluting industries. Now general taxpayers pay for much of hazardous waste cleanup.

It’s worth noting that “originalism” is a dubious legal philosophy, and I doubt that Pruitt intends his “originalism” as either serious history or serious legal philosophy. It is merely rhetoric to justify his approach to the EPA. Like much political rhetoric, it relies on a mythologized or invented past.

Vox’s David Roberts has another good angle on Pruitt’s “originalism” – namely that the environmental laws that pertain to the EPA were written so that the agency was allowed, even required, to respond flexibly to the latest and best science. So the “original” intent of the legislation was that environmental regulations would change over time.

William Ruckelshaus being sworn in as the first EPA administrator, alongside Richard Nixon.

William Ruckelshaus being sworn in as the first EPA administrator, alongside Richard Nixon. Source: Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library, Yorba Linda, CA, via Wikipedia.