IT BRIEFLY looked as if Donald Trump, having denounced global warming as a hoax and sworn to dismantle Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, might have had a rethink. Now it seems he has not. As The Economist went to press, Mr Trump was reported to be about to nominate Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney-general, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He would be hard-pushed to find anyone more hostile to that department or committed to tearing up the environmental rules that are perhaps the main achievement of Mr Obama’s second term.
To get around an obstructive Republican-controlled Congress, Mr Obama’s environmental policies were almost all promulgated as regulations, mostly by the EPA. His marquee rule, issued last year, is a scheme known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP), designed to force the states to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from coal- and gas-fired power stations. On the trail, Mr Trump denounced the Plan as a “war on coal” and promised to scrap it. Mr Pruitt, who has sued the EPA unsuccessfully several times, is leading a legal challenge to the CPP by 27 states and some firms in the federal appeals court in Washington, DC. The challengers say it infringes states’ rights.
Mr Pruitt, who has close ties to coal and gas companies and related lobbyists, some of whom have made donations to his political campaigns, is a climate change obfuscator, and perhaps an outright denier. In an interview with The Economist last year, he insisted his attack on the CPP had nothing to do with his views on global warming, which he would not divulge. But in a subsequent article for the National Review, co-authored with a fellow attorney-general of a coal-rich state, Luther Strange of Alabama, he seemed to present disagreement over the details of climate science as disagreement over the fundamentals in a way that climate-change deniers often do. “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote. “That debate should be encouraged—in classrooms, public forums and the halls of Congress.” If Mr Pruitt has his way—and the Republican-controlled Senate would smile on his appointment—the EPA and much environmental regulation could be ravaged.
Because the CPP is still locked in litigation, it should be fairly easy to kill. That would make it hard for America to meet the emissions-cutting targets it set for itself at the UN climate summit in Paris last year. (Mr Trump has vowed to “cancel” the Paris agreement.) But older regulations, for example, one to reduce mercury emissions from power plants, will be harder to scrap. Having been mandated by law, any withdrawn rule would need replacing with a new one. If Mr Pruitt offered a weaker alternative, he would be sued by environmental groups, as previous Republican EPAs were. Even before the news of his expected nomination, well-funded greens were consulting their lawyers; presented with Mr Pruitt as a probable adversary, their resistance to Mr Trump has been supercharged. “He could have done a lot more harm if he’d picked a more elegant thug than this cartoon villain,” said a leading environmental campaigner.
It is also contrary to recent hints that Mr Trump might be taking a more serious view of the environment. In a meeting with the New York Times, he acknowledged some “connectivity” between human activity and climate change. On December 5th he discussed the issue with Al Gore, who was said to have been invited to Trump Tower, in Manhattan, by the president-elect’s daughter, Ivanka. One of Mr Trump’s most trusted advisers, she has let it be known that climate change is an issue she cares about. If that is really true, she cannot be thrilled by Mr Pruitt’s nomination: it is a reminder of how limited any adviser’s hold on Mr Trump is. He makes his own decisions, often unpredictably—even if his nominations appear more consistently conservative than some had expected.
After much delay, he nominated a former rival, Ben Carson, on December 5th to head the department of housing and urban development—though Mr Carson, not unlike Mr Pruitt, is opposed to the schemes he would be tasked with administering. To his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant-general accused of harbouring anti-Muslim views, Mr Trump has added two more retired generals: James “Mad Dog” Mattis, as secretary of defence and, it was reported on December 8th, John Kelly, who is known for his tough views on immigration, to lead the department of homeland security.
With Mr Trump believed to be considering two more servicemen—David Petraeus, a retired general, for secretary of state, and Michael Rogers, a retired admiral, for director of national intelligence—he could end up with quite a military cabinet. That is also a bit surprising, because Mr Trump disparaged America’s generals ahead of the election, suggesting he knew more about Islamic State than they did. Then again, if he really believes that, maybe it is why he keeps hiring them.