Last week, I was proud to lead a group of my Democratic colleagues on the Senate floor to shine light on the dangerous environmental record that Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to serve on the Supreme Court, has during his time serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Over his last 12 years on the bench, Judge Kavanaugh has successfully struck down protections under the Clean Air Act, opposed efforts to fight climate change and undermined critical protections for clean water.
That’s why I penned an op-ed in USA Today highlighting how Judge Kavanaugh’s concerning anti-environment record has striking, and concerning, similarities to the agenda of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Throughout his tenure at EPA, Pruitt worked to undo the progress our country has made to cut dangerous emissions from power plants, make the vehicles we drive more efficient and address the global threat of climate change, just to name a few. Based on Judge Kavanaugh’s track record, it’s almost certain that he would continue undermining these bedrock environmental protections – this time with the weight of our nation’s highest court behind him. As a result, his nomination to the Supreme Court poses a serious threat to fundamental public health protections that keep families in Delaware, and across the country, safe.
But there is a silver lining. As we have seen with other Trump nominees who have been defeated due to their extreme environmental views, we have a fighting chance when the American people learn more about Kavanaugh’s record and understand what’s at stake. With so much on the line, it’s a chance we intend to take.
Read my full piece, “If Brett Kavanaugh becomes a Supreme Court justice, he'll finish what Scott Pruitt started” below:
Scott Pruitt is out as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, but if Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, Pruitt’s dangerous, anti-environment agenda will continue to wreak havoc — this time with the weight of our nation’s highest court behind it.
Pruitt was hostile to the very agency he led and repeatedly attempted to undo critical protections that his predecessors — both Republicans and Democrats — had put in place. Kavanaugh has successfully struck down protections under the Clean Air Act, opposed efforts to fight climate change and undermined critical protections for clean water. And he’s done so in cases brought to the courts by Scott Pruitt himself.
Put simply, if he’s confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh will be able to finish what Pruitt started.
While Justice Anthony Kennedy was no environmental champion, he was a pragmatic conservative who, in critical instances, recognized that conservative ideology was out of step with the values of most Americans when it came to environmental issues.
For instance, in 2007, Kennedy provided the decisive fifth vote in Massachusetts v. EPA, which held that the EPA had illegally refused to decide whether to regulate global warming pollution. This landmark decision set the stage for critical regulations aimed at boosting vehicle fuel economy standards, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.
As EPA administrator, Pruitt did his very best to undo all that progress.
Under Pruitt, the EPA started to weaken emissions standards for cars and SUVs. Pruitt began repealing the Clean Power Plan, a historic step to reduce carbon pollution. And he delayed efforts to address dangerous methane emissions.
Just last year, Pruitt’s attempt to delay rules limiting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling was challenged in the D.C. Circuit Court, where Kavanaugh now serves. In that case, Clean Air Council v. Pruitt, Kavanaugh sided with Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry, voting against his colleagues who found Pruitt’s delay illegal.
Despite Pruitt giving lip service to "cooperative federalism" throughout his tenure at EPA, he repeatedly denied states the ability to combat dangerous pollutants, like ozone, that blow into downwind states like Delaware from its western neighbors. In 2012, Kavanaugh rejected a similar "good neighbor" regulation and blocked air pollution restrictions covering nearly half the country, thereby endangering thousands of lives.
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt signed onto a lawsuit challenging EPA’s mercury regulations. He argued that the evidence before the court “does not support EPA’s finding” that mercury and other known toxins “pose public health hazards,” despite widespread scientific evidence that mercury causes birth defects and other health problems in pregnant and nursing women. In that case, White Stallion Energy Center v. EPA, Kavanaugh attempted to severely limit EPA’s authority to regulate toxic emissions and greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
It’s likely all of these issues will come before the Supreme Court in the coming years. With Kavanaugh on the bench, it’s almost certain that bedrock environmental protections will be rolled back.
The silver lining here, though, is that the American people overwhelmingly rejected Pruitt and his environmental agenda. And Republicans finally started speaking out against Pruitt, in part because of his unprecedented ethical lapses (Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst called him "about as swampy as you get”) and in some cases because of his deference to the oil and gas industry over other energy interests.
While we’ve not been able to topple all of the Trump administration’s unqualified or ill-prepared nominees, we have had notable success taking down nominees due to their extreme environmental views.
Last year, my Democratic colleagues and I — aided by several Republican senators — defeated President Donald Trump’s pick to lead EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. The nominee, Michael Dourson, had spent his career promoting less protective chemical safety standards at the behest of industry. And Trump's nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett White, withdrew earlier this year after we exposed her disdain for basic facts and science and her contempt for those who embraced that clear evidence.
Dourson and Hartnett White were ultimately rejected because they had a handful of environmental positions that proved to be deal breakers for Republican senators. Sadly, Kavanaugh’s record on the environment is a compilation of those same extreme positions. Add in his other deeply troubling stances on health care protections, LGBTQ rights and presidential power, to name a few, and Democrats are very much in the game.
The numbers at this early stage may seem like they’re against us, but in truth, Kavanaugh’s environmental positions stand in stark contrast to what the overwhelming majority of Americans want and what the laws of our land require. When the American people — and the senators who represent them — learn more about Kavanaugh’s record and fully understand what’s at stake, then we have a fighting chance. And it’s a chance we intend to take.