Environmental Protection Agency leader Scott Pruitt made a quiet visit to Boise Tuesday, to sign a new agreement between his agency and the state of Idaho.
More than two dozen protesters gathered outside chanting and holding signs that read things like, "Pruitt, polluter in chief," and "Protect our water."
Pruitt was joining Idaho Governor Butch Otter at the statehouse to laud the transfer of a Clean Water Act program that regulates pollution in lakes or streams. Pruitt cheered the transfer of power from the EPA to the state. He says a “one-size-fits-all” approach to water management doesn’t work.
"The water quality issues in Utah—the second-most dry state in the nation—are different than the water quality issues in Idaho," Pruitt says.
Over the next four years, Idaho will take over a federal program called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. A business or entity that discharges pollutants into rivers, streams or other water is required to have a NPDES permit. For example, a technology company that discharges chemical waste or a food processing plant that releases agricultural material into a river would need a regulatory permit through the program.
It’s common for states to administer these polluter permits—in fact, before this, Idaho was one of only four states that did not have control of the permit program. The state of Idaho has been seeking this regulatory authority since 2014.
State regulators say the Idaho-run program will allow for more “local knowledge” and a “streamlined timeline for issuing permits.” The Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a press release that says that “protective, substantive permitting requirements will remain.” State-run NPDES programs do have to adhere to the same federal clean water standards as those run by the EPA.
Most protesters didn't object to the transfer of the program, but were rather there to criticize Pruitt's actions on climate change, government science and vehicle emissions.
Therese Etoka, a senior at Boise High School, says she came to the protest as a member of the Climate Justice league, a student group affiliated with the Idaho chapter of the Sierra Club. She heard about Pruitt's visit through Facebook and quickly put the word out to her friends.
"Scott Pruitt's presence in Idaho does not represent who we are," she says. "Using taxpayer money to fund what he would like and destroy our lands—that's what really pushed me to be here. We do not want him here."
Morty Prisament came to the protest with his wife, who's involved with environmental activism in Boise. He says he especially dislikes how Pruitt avoided questions from the public.
"That's really horrible to act like that as a high-level government official," he says.
Pruitt spoke publicly for about two minutes before scooting out a side door without answering any reporter questions or responding to the protests.
Copyright 2018 Boise State Public Radio
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.