Trump's EPA Pick Hides Pro-Polluter Record Behind Process Jargon
Without directly addressing Pruitt's conflicts of interest, Barrasso introduced a Wall Street Journal story about Hillary Clinton raising more fossil fuel funds than Trump and a Politico story that quoted someone alleging that Pruitt's problems are actually a "fishing expedition" led by those with funding from "far left" groups … This pattern of Pruitt dodging tough questions then being defended by Barrasso continued throughout the day.
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin's turn brought us to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, with the senator asking Pruitt if he'd support the federal role in the plan that he sued to stop. Pruitt, as he did throughout the day, talked about legal precedent and process instead of environmental protection. He said he would commit to supporting the policy now, though, which he praised as being what these things are supposed to look like.
Cardin then turned to drinking water, asking if Pruitt believed there is any safe level of lead in water, particularly for the young? Pruitt said he hasn't "looked at the scientific research" and would be "concerned" about any level of lead. The fact that the potential head of the EPA doesn't already know there's no safe level of lead is one of many concerning issues to come up throughout the day.
When specifically asked about Flint, Pruitt said that more should have been done by the EPA and done more quickly, since it was an emergency situation. Cardin pointed out that Pruitt has participated in "several lawsuits" about how local agencies should have been in charge and Pruitt confirms that there is a role for the EPA to play.
At 11:06 a.m., it was Republican Sen. Deb Fischer from Nebraska's turn. Her question started by listing how her state's been "really affected" by EPA's actions.
Next, Democrat Jeff Merkley. Merkley flat out asked if Pruitt's aware of methane's global warming potential. Pruitt said yes. How concerned is he, on a 1–10 scale? Pruitt is concerned, though not "highly" concerned.
Pruitt refuses to acknowledge that all but 37 of the thousand-some words in a letter to the EPA about the methane rule were written by Devon Energy, but defends it. "Did you copy the letter virtually word for word?" Merkley takes Pruitt's dodging as an affirmative.
"You used your office as a direct extension of a company," Merkley stated plainly. Then he asks, "do you acknowledge you presented a private oil company's position and not that of the people?" "I disagree," Pruitt responded, laying out his standard talking point about how the industry is his constituency. Merkley hammered him on it. Pruitt retreated to process and cost-benefit analysis language. Pruitt claimed to have consulted with other regulators on the issue, Merkley asked for the details to prove it.
"Why do you need an outside oil company to draft a letter for you when you have 250 employees?" Merkley asked as he runs out of time. Barrasso offered some time so Pruitt can answer. Pruitt claimed that the Devon Energy letter wasn't particular to Devon, but to the industry as a whole.
Republican Jerry Moran from Kansas lessened the tension with a softball about WOTUS, accusing the EPA of going it alone on the issue.
New Jersey's Cory Booker's turn brought us back to real questions. Pruitt's record of 14 lawsuits against the EPA, challenging clean air and clean water rules, are entered into the record. Booker rattled off Pruitt's opposition to various regulations to make sure Pruitt is familiar with them and his record of siding with polluting industries against the EPA.
Booker finally got to his question: "Do you know how many kids in Oklahoma, roughly, have asthma?" "I do not, senator." Booker points out that more than 111,000, more than 1 in 10 kids in Oklahoma have asthma—one of the highest rates in the country. How many letters has Pruitt sent on those children's behalf?
"Did you let any of those children write letters on your letterhead?" (With rhetoric like this, no wonder people are speculating about a Booker 2020 presidential run).
Pruitt avoided the question as Booker's time ended.
Barrasso submited multiple opinions from Oklahoma praising Pruitt to the record. He then pointed out that Obama's EPA administrators sued the EPA during the George W. Bush administration—though likely they weren't acting on industry's behalf, but to get the EPA to act.
Sen. Rounds, a Republican from Wyoming, continued the pattern of GOP senators asking Pruitt to finish defending himself. This time it was in reference to cross-state pollution, which was brought up as a side-note by Booker. Pruitt believes it's an important statute EPA should enforce, a statement belied by his litigation to the contrary.
After some softballs from Rounds, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey (D) asked Pruitt if he believes climate change is a hoax, like Trump. Pruitt does not.
With that on the record, Markey moved to the eight ongoing lawsuits Pruitt has against the EPA. Pruitt's said he would recuse himself from these issues for one year as mandated by law. But will he recused himself not just for one year, "but for the entirety of the time you're administrator of the EPA?" Channeling his inner Rick Perry, Pruitt danced around the question, but when pressed by Markey, he took the Tillerson route and pointed to the ethical council as the decision maker on the issue.
Markey insisted that Pruitt should unequivocally recuse himself from anything dealing with the lawsuits he's filed. If not, it will be "a fundamental conflict of interest." Markey hit Pruitt with a quote sure to end up in the coverage: "It's not just the fox guarding the henhouse, it's the fox destroying the henhouse."
To sooth the pain from that burn and defend Pruitt, Barrasso read from a letter from the Office of Government Ethics which said Pruitt's in compliance with the conflict of interest rules.
Then it was time for Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa. She jumped into the ethanol issue, a big deal for her farm state. Pruitt responded to a question about the Renewable Fuel Standard with "process" and free market language but ultimately commited to the RFS, sort of. This issue will return…
Then Ernst told Pruitt that her constituents feel like the EPA is out to get them, particularly on the WOTUS rule. How would he help the EPA regain trust? (Trust that in reality, was never actually lost…)
Pruitt answered with his well-rehearsed "grow the economy, protect environment, cooperative federalism" spiel.
Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth asked about the RFS too, particularly Pruitt's siding with fossil fuel companies that "slammed" the RFS. Which position does he actually take, the "nice sounding, but ultimately vague" one he's made here to placate Ernst and herself or the anti-RFS one he took with fossil fuel companies? "Which specific actions has EPA taken since 2007 while administering the RFS that is not keeping with congressional intent?" Pruitt failed to give a satisfactory answer and Duckworth slamed his doublespeak for leaving opposition open as an option.
Duckworth finished her time nailing Pruitt on the need for biofuels, pointing out that she's "already been to a war for oil in the Middle East" so Pruitt's potential opposition to corn-based fuels troubles her.