Protesters ask Duckworth, Durbin to reject EPA nominee

Protesting President Donald Trump’s EPA head nomination, Chicagoans yelled, “We reject the EPA elect” at Federal Plaza Jan. 25.

By Caroline Bowen

“Hear us: we reject the EPA-elect,” chanted protesters downtown Jan. 25, who voice their concerns with Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt.

“[Pruitt] has proven [to be] a climate opponent, an enemy of the environment and is specifically unfit to fill this role as the EPA,” said Jessica Fujan, midwest regional director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit organization advocating environmental sustainability who organized the rally at Federal Plaza, 230 S. Dearborn St.

According to Fujan, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, have the power to vote against the nominee and stop his appointment.

However, it takes Republicans crossing the aisle to accomplish that task because only 51 votes are needed for confirmation and the Republicans lead the Senate with a 52-48 majority. A party defection seems unlikely because only one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, has voted to reject a Trump cabinet appointee in the four votes that have been held as of press time, and all nominees have garnered some Democratic support.

Democrats are hoping that will not be the case with Pruitt, an ardent opponent of the EPA and a climate change skeptic who would head the agency responsible for integrating environmental sustainability and protection into policies, with a central focus on human health and the environment, according to the EPA website.

Beth Drucker, founder of Go Green Wilmette, an environmental awareness organization, was among the protesters who gathered at Federal Plaza. She said she was protesting because she wanted to do something more proactive than signing petitions. Drucker encouraged not just the city, but every Chicago neighborhood to create sustainability groups and educate each other on the environment.

“It’s [about] being active and leading groups of people willing to work hard day in and day out to get people to protect the planet,” she said. “Because if we don’t protect the planet, no one is going to.”

As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times.

“[Pruitt is] obviously not signed on to the idea of environmental stewardship,” said David Archer, a professor in the Department of Geophysical Science at the University of Chicago.  

Along with the protesters, scientists such as Archer and Jerry Adams, a geology professor at Columbia, said Pruitt will not fulfill the responsibilities of heading the EPA because of his past connections to fossil fuel industries and his denial of climate change.

Adams said Pruitt’s track record proves he lacks the necessary expertise and will appoint other climate change deniers to implement his agenda.

According to Adams, 97 percent of scientists agree human activity is a strong contributor to climate change. The other three percent, he said, are largely influenced by companies in industries directly contributing to global warming.

“It’s like saying, ‘I don’t believe in a hammer’ among a batch of carpenters,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you believe in it; it works.”

According to Fujan, Durbin has publicly expressed concern over Pruitt’s nomination but needs to take direct action.

“If, in spite of [Durbin’s and Duckworth’s] negative vote, Scott Pruitt takes office in the EPA, we want all of our [U.S.] senators to sign a pledge to not just protect the EPA and that agency’s functions  in protecting the environment, but also to protect clean air and water and the food that we all need to survive,” Fujan said.