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When Scott Pruitt took the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, public health activists, environmentalists and ordinary citizens expressed outrage. How could a politician with close ties to the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) be counted on to champion the Agency’s mandate? Why turn the EPA over to a lawyer who was involved in multiple lawsuits against it, and, who, as attorney general of Oklahoma, disbanded that state’s Environmental Protection Unit? Less than two years later, Pruitt's record as EPA head has only reinforced his detractors’ worst fears.
While Scott Pruitt’s tenure provokes almost daily controversy, what remains less known is that the EPA has long been a compromised institution. In fact, decades before Pruitt arrived with his transparently anti-legislation agenda, the EPA colluded with industry in ways that endangered public health and undermined its own mission.
I know this because in late 2017 my organization, the Bioscience Resource Project, collaborated with the Center for Media and Democracy to rescue and digitize the Poison Papers. These documents come mainly from the barn of longtime pesticide campaigner Carol Van Strum, whose homesteading family and their neighbors were repeatedly sprayed in the 1970s by what turned out to be Agent Orange.