William D. Ruckelshaus, William K. Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman all formerly ran the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and did so effectively. They didn't always agree with environmentalists in every dispute, but they certainly advocated for the environment and willingly enforced federal clean air, water and land standards.
Oh, and there's one more thing they had in common — they all served Republican presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush.
Donald Trump's nominee to run the agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is cut from an entirely different cloth. He is a climate change denier, a tool of the fossil fuel industry, a "war on coal" alarmist and a leading voice among those who would have the U.S. turn its back on international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, there are few Americans more hostile to environmental protection. This is a man determined to take the country backward, reject the Clean Power Plan and similar efforts to lower carbon emissions regardless of what science has to say on the subject — at least as long as he can find an energy industry-backed naysayer or two.
So much for Monday's meeting with Al Gore and that glimmer of hope that the president-elect, who recently told The New York Times he was open minded on the issue of climate change, might listen to reason. Mr. Gore, it appears, was nothing more than a prop, a bit of stagecraft to suggest Mr. Trump, a policy lightweight, was willing to drill down on a complex issue.
Instead, it appears the former reality television star is far more interested in an entirely different form of drilling — the kind tied to ExxonMobil's profit margin. Perhaps he has investments there? Who knows? He offers no documentation for his claim to have sold all his stocks. Here's a bit of advice to Mitt Romney, whose meetings with Mr. Trump have raised hopes of a more reasoned and moderate choice for secretary of state and steady hand on foreign policy: Don't get your hopes up.
Newly-elected presidents deserve some leeway in advisers and cabinet choices — elections have consequences, after all — and it's reasonable to hear what nominees have to say, particularly those facing the Senate confirmation process.
With all due respect, Mr. Pruitt deserves to be an exception to that courtesy. His multiple lawsuits against the EPA have proven that. His willingness to treat the writings of oil industry lobbyists as holy writ reinforce it, and his view that the federal government ought to leave environmental regulation to states confirms it. Maryland's senators, Ben Cardin and newly-elected Chris Van Hollen, ought to speak out in no uncertain terms against this fox-in-the-hen-house nomination that could prove especially disastrous for the Chesapeake Bay and EPA's role in promoting the so-called "pollution diet" to protect and preserve it.
Perhaps the nominee will claim, as he has suggested in the past, that he was merely looking out for his home state with its ties to Big Oil. Whatever his motivations, his unwillingness to accept basic scientific facts and his past engagements in subterfuge (his office was caught sending letters of protest to federal regulators that were actually penned by energy industry lobbyists) reveal a basic character flaw that no 11th hour revelations regarding carbon dioxide or methane are going to make irrelevant.
What happened to Republicans believing in science and conservation? Perhaps they have gone the way of Mr. Ruckelshaus and Ms. Whitman who, incidentally, both endorsed Hillary Clinton out of concern for the very thing the Pruitt appointment reveals — not a sympathy for business but a profound disdain for human health, safety and welfare. As Mr. Ruckelshaus, concerned that climate change would be ignored under a Trump administration, observed in August: "The young people in this country deserve far better than that as our legacy."