DALLAS — Scott Pruitt has emerged as an unusually controversial Environmental Protection Agency administrator, a Cabinet-level position that historically hasn't held the name recognition that other top posts have.
As Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt sued the agency he now leads 14 times, accusing President Barack Obama's EPA of over regulation.
Nearly 800 former EPA officials urged the Senate to block Pruitt's nomination in February, because they said his record and public statements suggest he doesn't agree with underlying principles of environmental laws.
President Donald Trump's proposed federal budget makes deep cuts to the EPA, but also requests upping Pruitt's security detail to increase the number of agents and provide 24/7 protection. Henry Barnet, the director of EPA's criminal enforcement office, told E&E News that Pruitt's current security isn't enough.
The EPA chief's polarization was on full display Friday.
First, the organizers of Earth Day Texas didn't confirm when EPA administrator Scott Pruitt was going to speak at the event until two hours before he was scheduled to appear.
He was late, and the audience of several dozen people had to move to an auditorium in the basement. While waiting to move down there, two protesters unfurled a banner and started chanting, "science not superstition," accusing Pruitt of being the wrong choice for the job.
The crowd, placated for the wait with wine, beer, and snacks, looked on unperturbed, not joining in the chants.
When he arrived to speak nearly an hour late, Pruitt took the stage with Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton for a "fireside chat." As the administrator spoke, his staff and security detail of eight-or-so people watched the crowd, positioned on the edges and in the aisles of the auditorium.
The two discussed Pruitt's "back to basics" approach to managing the EPA that focuses on the agency's "core mission" of protecting the nation's air, land, and water.
"Regulation — and this is a very profound statement — regulation ought to make things regular," Pruitt said. "I think what's happened over the last several years is we've been told as a country that we have to choose between jobs and protecting the environment, and I think that's a false choice."
About a third of the way through the talk, three protesters interrupted. One by one, they stood up and accused Pruitt of committing environmental atrocities.
Each time, a member of Pruitt's team removed the demonstrators from the auditorium, either by telling them they had to leave and walking by their side until they were out the back doors, or linking arm-in-arm to steer them out.
Sitton told the protesters that they were unfairly keeping everyone else from listening, and that they would get a chance to ask questions at the end.
"This administration doesn't believe in climate change or global warming. You're gutting the EPA!" the third protester yelled. "You are putting everyone's life at risk! You're condemning them to a life of hell! How much money are you being paid to do this? You're a monster!"
Some in the crowd incredulously asked, "Really?"
"You know, I told you that Earth Day Texas was quite intense," Sitton said, and many in the audience clapped, laughing.
Two audience members were allowed to ask questions, and Pruitt answered them, but then his staff terminated the event.
He only spoke with Sitton onstage for 22 minutes.
And then an event host asked the crowd not to leave the theater until Pruitt left.
Most people waited a minute, but then attempted to exit. The event host and Pruitt's security blocked the doors, keeping people from leaving. The crowd voiced their frustration, and after a few more minutes, were finally allowed to leave.
More From Business Insider