We have all heard much yammering, left and right, about President-elect Donald Trump having selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the next head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As a conservationist and riverologist, I have worked firsthand with Scott Pruitt and know a good deal more about him than those nationally that are attempting to malign him.
I have made it my life’s work and my career to look after our state’s designated Scenic Rivers. As a state employee and a resource facilitator (I cannot take care of these valued-treasured water resources by myself), I always find myself arguing for the middle ground, for the workable solution upon which both sides of an issue can agree. I have looked and worked for real solutions, and have implemented them with help from all sides.
I have found that General Pruitt has always done right by our Scenic Rivers. He has done every constructive thing that he told me he would do. Furthermore, for the first time ever, he has gotten the State of Arkansas, which happens to have portions of the streams we’ve designated as “scenic rivers” originating in and flowing through their state, to agree to Oklahoma’s Scenic Rivers Phosphorus Standard—an incredible environmental accomplishment, the impact of which cannot be understated. Instead of engaging in years of inter-state litigation, he did this by negotiating an agreement with Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a practical and economical approach that will yield enormous environmental benefits.
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To understand the magnitude of this agreement, one must consider that Oklahoma and Arkansas have litigated over Illinois River water quality for more than three decades. The latest action brought by Oklahoma, about abating water quality degradation from the land-application of poultry waste in the Illinois River watershed, has languished for more than six years in the federal district court. Many thought that when General Pruitt took office he would abandon this suit because he is also known for his staunch support of farming and ranching communities. However, not only did General Pruitt allow the case to be fully litigated, he proactively sought this joint state solution to let science determine the phosphorus standard for the Illinois River. In the end, a study conducted by Baylor University reinforced that the phosphorus standard Oklahoma sought to protect would remain.
Last, I have not seen him advocate dismantling the EPA. Rather, he has rightfully supported necessary laws but has challenged the agency when they have written new rules without Congress having given them authority to do so. An administrative agency should not decide what the law is in the absence of legislation.
And so, my middle-of-the-river view is that Scott Pruitt is one who is committed to finding a balance that protects and preserves our environment while at the same time affords an opportunity for a robust economy to exist. Achievement of one doesn’t have to be exclusive of the other.
About the Author
Mr. Fite served as the Agency Administrator of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission from September 1983 through June 2016. Members of 2nd Session of the 55th (2016) Oklahoma State Legislature enacted law that effective July 1, 2016 consolidated the OSRC into the Grand River Dam Authority with Mr. Fite now serving in the capacity as their Vice-President for Scenic Rivers and Water Quality. Mr. Fite also serves as a member of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (Oklahoma’s Water Agency), the Cherokee Nation Environmental Protection Commission and the Solid Waste Institute of Northeast Oklahoma.