When Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt offered an invitation to meet and hear the concerns of Moms Clean Air Force last month, co-founder and Executive Director Dominique Browning was not expecting much.

Pruitt’s invitation, however, eventually led to an early January meeting with the activist organization, stunning Browning.

“No one was more surprised than I when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt asked Moms Clean Air Force in for a meeting. After all, we have been relentless in our critique of the way he is dismantling Environmental Protection Agency protections,” Browning wrote in a blog post after the meeting.

“I did not expect Pruitt to meet with representatives of a group that is so ardently opposed to decisions he has made. But he did,” Browning told E&E News.

In a blog, Browning detailed her group’s opposition to much of Pruitt’s work at the agency since his appointment in 2017, including the repeal of the Obama administration’s key energy policy proposal, the Clean Power Plan.

“[I]t is our nation’s frontline defense against the power plant pollution that is fueling climate change,” Browning wrote.

“Given all of these deeply damaging actions, we wondered whether we should decline to meet. We questioned what good could come of sitting down with someone who seems determined to make our world dirtier and more dangerous for our children,” Browning continued.

“But we decided we wanted to tell the Administrator, face to face, that we are gravely concerned about actions that protect polluters, not people. And we wanted to hear what he had to say about air and climate pollution,” she said.

According to Browning, Pruitt was happy to share his own priorities for the agency, including Superfund and water contamination issues.

“He started right in with news of two programs he intends to launch: increased Superfund site cleanup on a speedier schedule, and an ambitious (as-of-yet unfunded) infrastructure program to rid drinking water of lead,” Browning wrote. “As he pointed out, the water contamination problems in Flint are problems in cities across the country. The Administrator talked about the damage lead does to children’s developing brains. He stated that his goal is to entirely eliminate lead from the drinking water supply in 10 years.”

“We are also interested in progress, protecting human health and the environment,” Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, told E&E News. Bowman confirmed the accuracy of Browning’s blog post, including comments attributed to Pruitt.

“I told him that we need action on climate pollution, to which he replied, ‘Yes, global warming is happening.’ Then Pruitt pointed out that methane was a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide,” wrote Browning.

“To my surprise he agreed that methane should be regulated—but in a different way,” she continued, describing Pruitt’s intent to rewrite rules and regulations.

When Pruitt turned to enforcement of current rules on companies, Browning had mixed feelings.

“Pruitt talked about being more aggressive in bringing criminal charges against polluters, rather than slapping ineffective fines against them. Again: Bravo. Let’s see it happen—immediately,” Browning wrote.

Browning, despite her differences with the EPA’s chief regulator, called Pruitt “intense, aggressive, and focused” and “really, really smart.”

“And yes, of course we thanked Administrator Pruitt for his hospitality. He will continue to hear from us—and we will stay united in our determination to clean things up,” Browning concluded.

In the days following the meeting with Moms Clean Air Force, Pruitt also heard from competing voices, this time from Capitol Hill. Despite the rule to reverse the Clean Power Plan being released in October, last week a group of elected officials from the West and across the country applauded Pruitt’s move.

Photo credit: U.S. Sen. John Barrasso

U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), along with senators from other Western states and majority members of the committee, sent a letter of support to Pruitt for his move to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

“We write in support of EPA’s proposal to repeal the so-called “Clean Power Plan” (CPP) . . . When President Obama finalized the CPP in 2015, we opposed it because of the pervasive, negative effects it would have had on Americans across the country. The CPP would have driven up energy prices, eliminated American jobs, and hurt local communities that depend on coal,” the senators wrote.

“As the figures in your proposed repeal demonstrate, the costs of the CPP would have been substantial. By repealing the rule, EPA eliminates up to $33 billion in costs in the year 2030 alone,” they continued.

The EPW letter called the Clean Power Plan illegal.

“Not only is the CPP bad policy, it is unlawful. Congress did not give EPA the authority to transform our energy sector. The CPP would force coal plant closures and artificially shift electricity generation to other sources,” they wrote. “As the Supreme Court has stated, EPA cannot ‘bring about an enormous and transformative expansion in EPA’s regulatory authority without clear Congressional authorization.’”

“As you work to repeal the CPP, we support EPA’s willingness to examine broader questions about how the federal government measures the costs and benefits of EPA regulations,” the letter concluded.