Even while Scott Pruitt will most certainly be confirmed ultimately by the Senate, Democrats grilled him today and signaled that they want to inflict as much political damage as possible. While Pruitt was grilled over his record as the attorney general of Oklahoma and his ties to energy companies, the tenor of the questioning led him to break with President Elect Donald Trump on an issue central to the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in the climate change debate.
While Trump said during the campaign that he believes that the global warming issue is a hoax fostered by the Chinese to bring down manufacturing in the United States, his choice for the EPA expressed disagreement. Pruitt told Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA): “I do not believe climate change is a hoax.” Pruitt told Markey, “Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity, in some manner, impacts that change.” He added that the science is unclear as to what degree do humans affect climate change.
Questioned Scott Pruitt on whether he's committed to using the @EPA to protect the health of our children & families https://t.co/Xij8bq9aR8
When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pushed Pruitt to sign on to the theory of some scientists that man-made greenhouse gases are principal contributors to climate change, Pruitt refused and said that “more debate” is needed. He did said that the EPA has an “obligation” to regulate carbon dioxide under a 2007 Supreme Court decision and a 2009 finding by the EPA that carbon emissions are a threat to public health.
Pruitt sought to define “cooperative federalism,” which is his preference for regulating in which the federal and state governments share the responsibilities of executing water and air laws. “Cooperative federalism is at the heart of many environmental statutes passed by this body,” Pruitt said. “The reason for that is it’s the states that have the resources, the expertise and the understanding of the unique challenges facing the environment.”
For their part, Democrats have argued that federal regulations protect states from pollution for which they should not be blamed, such as emissions that jump state lines or water pollution that is found in rivers. “Your passion for devolving power down to states doesn't help us, because our state regulators can't do anything about any of those problems,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said. Pruitt resopnded, saying, “That’s not what I’m advocating.” He said, “We need a partnership, a true partnership, between the EPA in performing its role and the states performing theirs.”
Democrats on the panel suggested that donations Pruitt has received from the oil industry suggest that they had too much influence on his work in Oklahoma. Emotions were high when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked Pruitt to defend a letter he sent to the EPA that was an exact copy of a message sent to him by an oil company. “That was a step that I was taking as attorney general representing the interests of our state,” he said. “That was an effort to protect the state’s interest in making the voice of all Oklahomans heard on a very important issue for our state.”
Merkley responded, asking, “How can you present that as representing the people of Oklahoma when you only consulted with an oil company?”
GOP wants a new EPA
Republican members of the committee showed that they want Pruitt to overhaul the EPA, which the GOP has long seen as unbridled. “Your goal is not to do away with regulation, your goal is to make it such that the EPA follows their regulatory authority,” Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said.
As for the environment, there were those who sought to strike a balance. “Far from being an enemy of the environment, Scott Pruitt has proven to be an expert at balancing economic growth with environmental stewardship,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.
No great country will do well by rejecting science. Mr. Pruitt must not be confirmed as EPA administrator. https://t.co/iWr8aWYR86
Democrats criticized him for the more than 12 lawsuits he brought against the EPA while he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. Pruitt said several times that “we must reject the notion that if you’re pro-energy, you’re anti-environment,” and his written testimony nodded to the need for rules that don’t hurt “jobs, communities and most importantly families.”Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said during the hearing: “The country is divided on a lot of the issues in and around involving what you’re endeavoring to headline here at the EPA,” she said. “Those are the faces of the issues that I try to address.”