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Trump's EPA Pick Hides Pro-Polluter Record Behind Process Jargon

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By Philip Newell

Scott Pruitt, Trump's nominee for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, had his confirmation hearing Wednesday. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the event.

In the morning, there were reports of people paid to stand in line to keep protesters out and as the hearing started, Standing Rock protesters were arrested outside the room. We hoped senators would be just as willing to stand up to #PollutingPruitt.

Sen. Barrasso, introducing Pruitt, praised his supposed efforts to fight polluters. But the only specific action Barrasso could name was the oil clean-up "double dipping" issue. He didn't list other environmental protection actions from Pruitt because … well, of 700 press releases from Pruitt's time as Oklahoma AG, zero involved actions to protect the environment.

Delaware's Sen. Tom Carper gave a quick history lesson about the importance of the EPA, the old "burning rivers, smoggy cities" bit about how bad pollution was in the days before the EPA. In addition to sea level rise already flooding parking lots in Delaware, how fishing now comes with a mercury warning and the lead-laden troubles of Flint, Michigan, Carper focused on cross-state pollution. It's a not-so-subtle warning of things to come under Pruitt, whose states-first approach wouldn't be sufficient to handle interstate pollution.

Carper concluded with a "damning statement" from former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, hoping that today's event can prove her wrong.

Sen. Inhofe was next to speak and Barrasso praised him. (No mention of the infamous snowball). With his mild drawl and heavy rasp, Inhofe followed Barrasso's lead and heaped praise on Pruitt's protection of polluter profits. "He's a hero of the scenic rivers," Inhofe (falsely) said before being interrupted by a protester shouting as she was removed. According to MoJo's Rebecca Leber, the protesters were "unlike anything I saw at Tillerson's" hearing.

Inhofe took a moment to attack the outgoing administration as radical—one that at least 60 percent of Americans agree with. In the same breath, he praised the fossil fuel industry as protectors of the environment.

In his opening statement, Pruitt admitted, like other cabinet nominations, that the climate is changing and humans play some role. But of course, he stopped short of accepting the consensus and falls back to the now common position that the extent to which we're changing the climate and what should be done about it remain questions for debate.

Now on to the questions. Sen. Carper quoted Donald Trump's statements about dismantling the EPA. Will the things Trump have said "just go away" under Pruitt? Given Pruitt's dismantling of the environment unit in the attorney general office and the lack of answers to questions given in advance of the hearing, Carper justified the concerns of the protesters faintly heard outside.

On mercury, Carper tried to get a yes or no answer as to whether Pruitt's lawsuits that have opposed the mercury regulation do so because they oppose the fact that mercury is … well … bad. Pruitt tried to dodge the question but Carper didn't let him, continuing to nail him on the issue. Pruitt admited, eventually, that mercury is something the EPA should regulate.

As Inhofe took the floor, scientists declared 2016 the hottest year on record.

Moving on, Inhofe tossed Pruitt a couple of softballs regarding water negotiations Pruitt has led.

Next it was Sen. Whitehouse's turn. He got right into it—"The oceans off of our state are warming, due to fossil-fuel-driven climate change … I see nothing in your career to suggest you care one bit about" protecting those hurt by warming. He then brought out a poster of the main industries who have funded Pruitt and his groups. Pruitt said he wasn't sure if they maxed out contributions or even if they've contributed at all. Whitehouse educated him a little about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) received from the fossil fuel industry under Pruitt's leadership.

But did he solicit any of that funding? Pruitt's "unable to confirm" that funding and refused to directly answer if he solicited money. Pruitt said he didn't ask for money from Koch, Devon or Exxon, at least not "on behalf of RAGA."

Sen. Whitehouse pointed out that Pruitt declared no conflicts of interest, yet had not disclosed any of his solicitations for his "Rule of Law Defense Fund." Will Pruitt disclose his role in raising funds for it? Pruitt demurred and passed the buck before defending himself by pointing out he's suing Exxon. (Again, this is the double-dipping case, which as Whitehouse pointed out "has nothing to do with the environment.")

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