NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Scott Pruitt's Quiet Idaho Visit Draws Protesters

About two dozen protesters gathered in Boise in response to EPA director Scott Pruitt's brief appearance.
About two dozen protesters gathered in Boise in response to EPA director Scott Pruitt's brief appearance.

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.

  Click 'play' to hear the audio version of this story.

Pruitt is the center of several national controversies and is the target of a federal investigation for several abuses of authority related to spending and management decisions.

More than two dozen protesters gathered outside chanting and holding signs that read things like, "Pruitt, polluter in chief," and "Protect our water."

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Governor Butch Otter sign an agreement that transfers a Clean Water Act regulatory program over to state control.
Credit Amanda Peacher / Mountain West News Bureau
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Governor Butch Otter sign an agreement that transfers a Clean Water Act regulatory program over to state control.

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. 

Follow reporters Amanda Peacher  @amandapeacher and Will Reid @willr56  on Twitter .

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.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Amanda Peacher is an Arthur F. Burns fellow reporting and producing in Berlin in 2013. Amanda is from Portland, Oregon, where she works as the public insight journalist for Oregon Public Broadcasting. She produces radio and online stories, data visualizations, multimedia projects, and facilitates community engagement opportunities for OPB's newsroom.
Amanda Peacher
Amanda Peacher works for the Mountain West News Bureau out of Boise State Public Radio. She's an Idaho native who returned home after a decade of living and reporting in Oregon. She's an award-winning reporter with a background in community engagement and investigative journalism.
Will Reid is a senior at Yale University studying English and Creative Writing and he’s thrilled for the opportunity to cut his teeth in radio in Boise. He covers all kinds of topics for Boise State Public Radio, but is especially drawn to stories about energy, the environment and the institutions that shape our lives.