Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says fighting to make sure federal officials don't exceed their constitutional authority may be the most important role he plays as Oklahoma's attorney general.
Elected as just the second Republican attorney general in state history in November 2010, Pruitt has quickly gained a national reputation for his Don Quixote-like advocacy of federalism and relentless efforts to challenge any federal law or action that he sees as an infringement on individual liberties or states' rights.
Pruitt sat down with a reporter from The Oklahoman recently to discuss why he has chosen to devote so much of his time and office's resources to combating new federal laws and administrative actions.
The former state senator insists it's not a matter of partisan politics.
“It's all about making sure the enumerated powers — the limited powers that are vested in the federal government — are there. And if there is an expansion or overreach beyond that, the states step in,” Pruitt said. “That's exactly the role, I would say, of the modern-day AG.”
Pruitt was one of 28 state attorneys general who sued in an effort to stop federally mandated health insurance, commonly referred to as Obamacare.
He also was one of several attorneys general who sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to override state-proposed regional haze standards and impose its own, more stringent, antipollution standards.
“That federal plan, at the time, was going to force utility companies in the state of Oklahoma to spend approximately $2 billion-plus over a 3-year period, which would have caused utility rates to be raised during that same 3-year period by 15 to 20 percent,” he said.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an order preventing the EPA from implementing the plan before the case can be litigated.
“That's an important victory for Oklahomans,” he said. “That's federalism in action.”
Pruitt now wants to know whether the EPA has been secretly coordinating with national environmental groups that have filed a series of what appear to have been friendly lawsuits alleging violations of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
The EPA agreed to quick settlements in many such cases, paying huge attorneys fees and agreeing to consent decrees that have resulted in stringent standards while usurping the role of states as partners with the federal government in developing and implementing antipollution standards, Pruitt said.
“This hasn't just happened once or twice,” he said. “This has happened dozens of times …. If they're doing this as a strategy to try to adopt policies and impose substantive requirements on the states that they couldn't get passed through the regulatory process or through the legislative process, it's wrong and we'll take corrective steps.”
Pruitt led 12 other state attorneys general in filing a Freedom of Information request in August designed to find out what behind-the-scenes communication has been going on between the EPA and the national environmental groups.
Pruitt said many people regard federalism as just a topic for academic discussions, but the regional haze issue illustrates how court battles over federalism can have huge economic consequences for average Oklahomans.
Pruitt cited the Supreme Court case over federally mandated health care insurance as another example.
Pruitt said he and the other attorneys general filed their court actions because they didn't believe the federal government's power to regulate commerce granted it the authority to compel people to buy health insurance.
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It's all about making sure the enumerated powers — the limited powers that are vested in the federal government — are there. And if there is an expansion or overreach beyond that, the states step in. That's exactly the role, I would say, of the modern-day AG.”