EPA's Scott Pruitt quotes John Muir from The Yosemite
"Everyone needs beauty as well as bread"
As Attorney General for Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt sued the Environmental Protection Agency 13 times. President Trump selected him to lead the agency.
In his address last week to employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, newly enshrined Administrator Scott Pruitt took the opportunity to quote John Muir, telling his staff "Everyone needs places to pray in and play in".
This was the second time a Trump Administration official cited Muir's legacy. As I wrote on January 22, Ryan Zinke, nominee for Secretary of the Interior, spoke of the historic struggle over management of federal lands as defined by the differing and influential views of John Muir and Gifford Pinchot - a conflict that came to a head over the campaign to build a dam in Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley. (Zinke is still only a nominee, but is expected to be confirmed.)
The John Muir quote that Scott Pruitt chose also pertains to the Hetch Hetchy controversy. Indeed, it is in the Hetch Hetchy chapter of Muir's definitive classic The Yosemite (1912).
Shortly after the phrase "places to pray in and play in", Muir's elaborate prose takes a sharp turn. He then assails the "despoiling gainseekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators" who would bury Hetch Hetchy, a magnificient glacier-carved valley, under 300 feet of water.
Muir was of course referring to the San Francisco cabal that had been plotting to take Hetch Hetchy for their own.
In his remarks to the Senate committee, Zinke seemed wholly aware of the Muir-Pinchot dichotomy for managing federal lands and the challenges that lie ahead for him and his department.
Pruitt, on the other hand, seemed to employ the Muir quote out of context. While Muir was going after San Francisco a century ago, today's environmentalists fear that Pruitt may himself be a "despoiling gainseeker and mischief-maker". After all Pruitt himself sued the EPA 13 times as Oklahoma's Attorney General.
Amidst the politics surrounding both men and their speeches, however, it's good to know that neither John Muir nor Hetch Hetchy's legacy has been forgotten.