Senate panel questions Trump’s EPA pick over energy ties

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By Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner

<span class="articleLocation”>Democratic Senators quizzed Oklahoma Attorney
General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to
lead the Environmental Protection Agency, over his energy
industry ties during a contentious confirmation hearing on
Wednesday that was briefly interrupted by protesters.

Pruitt, 48, is a climate change skeptic who sued the agency
he intends to run more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s top
lawyer. He also chaired the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a group of
conservative attorneys general that vehemently opposed a number
of EPA regulations.

Both his opponents and his supporters believe his record
indicates he will aggressively carry out Trump’s campaign vows
to slash EPA regulation in order to boost industry, including
U.S. oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

“Why are folks so concerned?… We’re concerned that we
won’t be fine with the environment,” said Democratic Senator Tom
Carper of Delaware. “You joined in a dozen or more lawsuits…
going after the EPA. That’s why you have the kind of concern
you’re witnessing here today.”

In prepared remarks that were interrupted by protesters
shouting “There is no planet B”, Pruitt said he would seek to
ensure environmental rules were effective without hurting
development.

“Environmental regulations should not occur in an economic
vacuum. We can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of
environmental protection and economic growth,” he said. He added
that he would seek to give states more authority to regulate
their own environmental issues.

Under questioning, Pruitt also said he would recuse himself
from ongoing cases against the EPA if required to do so by the
EPA’s ethics commission.

Trump has promised to refocus the EPA on its core values of
protecting air and water quality, while scrapping many of
President Barack Obama’s initiatives to combat global climate
change by targeting carbon dioxide emissions.

Pruitt has said he believes climate change exists, but that
the debate over what is causing climate change is not yet
settled. U.S. government agencies said on Wednesday that world
temperatures in 2016 hit a record high for the third year in a
row, creeping closer to a ceiling set for global warming.

INDUSTRY TIES

For weeks, environmental groups have campaigned to urge
lawmakers to block Pruitt’s nomination, saying he is doing the
bidding of energy companies and industry groups that have
contributed to his election campaigns.

During the hearing, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of
Oregon showed a blown-up image of a letter Pruitt sent to the
current EPA administrator several years ago opposing regulations
limiting methane emissions from the energy sector, which he said
had been written by Oklahoma company Devon Energy.

Pruitt responded by saying the letter was not sent on behalf
of any one company but on behalf of an entire industry that is
important to the state’s economy

New Jersey Democratic Senator Corey Booker later asked
Pruitt if he had sent similar letters of behalf of Oklahoma
citizens affected by pollution, citing statistics showing the
state has among the highest asthma rates in the country.

“Did you even file one lawsuit on behalf of those kids?”

Republicans on the committee meanwhile focused their
questions on how Pruitt will work to avoid pollution crises like
the lead contamination crisis affecting Flint, Michigan, and
criticized the Obama administration’s climate regulations.

Asked what would be his guiding philosophy as EPA
administrator, he said: “I believe that the role of the
regulator is to make things regular. Public participation,
cooperative federalism…is central to restoring confidence and
certainty to those that are regulated.”

He said he would also support the U.S. renewable fuels
program, which requires biofuels like ethanol to be blended in
gasoline, but said the program needed some tweaks.

Several conservative groups and political action committees
supported Pruitt in advance of the hearing, including the PAC
Freedom Works, America Rising Squared, a registered nonprofit
backing conservative issues, and the National Association of
Manufacturers.

Pruitt’s hearing is one of a series of sessions to vet
Trump’s senior appointees since last week. Trump’s pick for
Secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was
questioned by lawmakers last week. His choice for Energy
Secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, is scheduled to
testify on Thursday.



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