WASHINGTON -- As Oklahoma's attorney general, Scott Pruitt waged war against what he deemed to be overreach by the federal government on health care, immigration and environmental regulations.
Now he's in line to rule over one of his most frequent targets: the EPA.
If Pruitt is confirmed by the Senate as Donald Trump's EPA administrator, he would bring a radical change in philosophy to the EPA that gives more deference to state action and slows the efforts to address man-made climate change that have been a hallmark of the Obama administration.
His nomination comes at a critical time for the agency and its effort to regulate the fuel consumption and emissions of cars and light trucks. For nearly six years, automakers and the EPA have been engaged in a tense partnership aimed at streamlining environmental regulations while tightening standards for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy.
The push-pull dynamic erupted into open conflict last week as two leading auto industry groups challenged the EPA's surprisingly early decision to affirm its greenhouse gas standards for 2022-25 model year vehicles. Automakers decried the agency's decision as a political maneuver designed to short-circuit a midterm evaluation of the program and protect it against the threat of a rollback by the Trump administration.
The design of the Obama administration's greenhouse gas program gives the EPA administrator an important final say in determining whether the program moves forward as is. That person could be Pruitt.
Auto industry representatives greeted Pruitt's nomination as an opening to secure a more thorough review of the EPA's vehicle emissions program and more flexibility in pursuing its objectives.
But his selection signals a broader debate over whether the EPA has any business regulating greenhouse gas emissions in the first place, and has raised alarms among environmental advocates.
Senate Democrats have indicated Pruitt may be in for a raucous confirmation hearing, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., calling his nomination "ominous and alarming" adding that he has "significant concerns about the signal it sends regarding the Trump administration's position on environmental policy."
Pruitt could also alienate auto-makers with his record of defending state sovereignty. Automakers have long argued for one set of predictable nationwide standards and against a patchwork of state-by-state rules.
Pruitt, a constitutional-law expert with close ties to Oklahoma's prominent oil and gas industry, has fashioned himself as a hawkish advocate for the separation of state and federal powers as the Sooner State's top prosecutor.
He established a "federalism unit" within his office that has been the launching pad for legal attacks on Obama administration initiatives that he viewed as federal overreach, including the administration's Clean Power Plan and the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
One such move was a failed bid by Pruitt and a coalition of state attorneys general to overturn the EPA's finding that greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health. The so-called endangerment finding has underpinned the EPA's ability to implement several regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions, including the auto industry's tailpipe rules.
Meanwhile, the court challenge against the Clean Power Plan has moved forward, putting the centerpiece of Obama's climate agenda on hold.
"The EPA does not possess the authority under the Clean Air Act to do what it is seeking to accomplish in the so-called Clean Power Plan," Pruitt told a congressional panel in 2015. "The EPA believes states exist to implement the policies the administration sees fit, regardless of whether laws like the Clean Air Act permit such action."
He has also cast doubt on whether a consensus exists about climate change, and whether human behavior is an influence. In a Tulsa World op-ed he co-authored last May, Pruitt wrote that "scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged -- in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress."