How could U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's religious beliefs be playing into his decisions at the agency? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E News reporter Niina Heikkinen discusses her conversations with Pruitt's pastor and explains how religion and policy could intersect at Pruitt's EPA.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. How might EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's religious beliefs be playing into his decisions at the agency? E&E News reporter Niina Heikkinen has spoken to Pruitt's pastor about the intersection of religion and politics. Niina, thanks for joining me — great reporting this week.
Niina Heikkinen: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: So, Niina, we know Scott Pruitt has attended Bible study here in Washington with several other high-level administration officials. That's really only one facet of the administrator's religious practice. You spoke with Pruitt's pastor. How big is religion playing into his life, and how might that impact decisions at the agency?
Niina Heikkinen: That's right. So I spoke with Nick Garland, who's the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, and that's where Scott Pruitt lives. And he described Pruitt's religious background as being incredibly strong. He described him as someone who had very, very strong religious convictions, and you see that play out also in his activity in the church. He was a deacon at that church, and he also taught Sunday school, and he was also the trustee of the Southern Baptist Seminary as well.
Monica Trauzzi: So specifically on climate change, how might the Bible be shaping Pruitt's actions and policy decisions?
Niina Heikkinen: Well, there's really this dual belief in stewardship or dominion. And when you talk about stewardship, it's this idea that you should take care of the planet, that God wants people to care for creation, and that there's some responsibility for action in that way. Dominion is a little bit different. It's the idea that you have — that God has given man control over God's creation, over plants and animals. And so that gives a little bit more leeway, in a way, to act differently, to, for example, maybe engage in hydraulic fracturing because you are using the resources of the earth to benefit people.
Monica Trauzzi: So here in Washington, the Bible study that we know he attended certainly this spring is organized and run by Capitol Ministries. What do we know about their views on the environment?
Niina Heikkinen: Well, they've been a little bit tricky to nail down. The one thing that I have been able to find is from a supplemental reading that the president of the organization, Ralph Drollinger, put out. And he talks about, you know, this idea of how people should use the earth for man's advantage, and it's going sort of back to this idea of dominion. And it's much more on the sort of conservative end of the spectrum.
Monica Trauzzi: Is there anything we've seen or heard from Pruitt so far that would indicate that his religious beliefs will play a significant role in the policy decisions he makes?
Niina Heikkinen: Well, you know, I have to say that I haven't spoken to Mr. Pruitt about his beliefs, and so I'd be hesitant to say exactly how his religion may play into it. But people who I spoke to for this article were saying that, you know, if someone really strongly holds this idea of dominion, then you might have this idea that you have authority to use the earth for your — for the advantage, as I mentioned, of maybe doing hydraulic fracturing or mining, instead of focusing on more of the stewardship side. There's also this idea that if God is in control and has a divine plan for the planet, that there isn't really a need to act as a person because God has already preordained what will happen. And so, you know, there were some people who were telling me that that is their concern, if Mr. Pruitt does believe that.
Monica Trauzzi: Very interesting reporting, great story, and it's running in today's Climatewire.
Niina Heikkinen: Thank you very much.
Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for joining me. More Cutting Edge coming next Friday — we'll see you then.
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