Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are not about to let Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt be confirmed as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency without a fight.
Pruitt, who has fought the EPA tooth and nail for several years against regulating the fossil fuel industries, is one of President-elect Donald Trump’s more controversial picks to fill his new Cabinet, though probably not the most controversial. The Democrats will have to pick their battles during the nomination process, with the common wisdom being they’ll only get one real shot at halting a confirmation. It’s uncertain if they’ll save that shot for Pruitt, but even if they don’t, signs suggest they’re going to give him a hard time.
While Pruitt’s confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled, the Senate is getting an early start with hearings started as early as next Tuesday.
The nominee spent the week wandering Capitol Hill, meeting with Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) as well as new committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has assumed the position held by Sen. Barbra Boxer (D-Calif.) prior to her retirement.
Following his Thursday morning meeting with Pruitt, Carper promised a fair confirmation hearing, but not necessarily an easy one. “I have grave concerns about Mr. Pruitt’s selection and I am not alone. A vast array of groups – including environmental advocates, public health organizations, children’s groups, former EPA administrators and religious leaders – have expressed similar sentiments,” Carper said.
Carper and several other committee members have sent Pruitt requests for information on his work history, his interactions with the EPA, and his relationships with various groups and businesses.
In a Dec. 27 letter to Pruitt, committee members led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) requested that Pruitt provide information on his involvement with the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a “public policy organization for issues relevant to the nation’s Republican attorneys general,” of which Pruitt is a board member. “Its organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code means the Fund need not disclose the identities of its donors, though Freedom Partners, which funds initiatives supported by the Koch brothers, has given the Fund at least $175,000 since 2014. The Fund’s activities, and your relationship to it, also require a full examination during your confirmation process,” the senators said in their letter.
The letter, signed by Whitehouse and Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), requested, among other items, “A list of all donors who have contributed to the Fund since its inception, total donated, and their affiliations,” as well as “A list of all federal and state legislation or regulations the Fund has taken a position on, Fund-organized legal briefs and letters to federal lawmakers, and all actions you have taken with respect to those matters.” The senators’ concern with Pruitt’s interactions with the fund stem from the organization’s support from the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
“What that conduct says about your ability to lead EPA in a manner that is not beholden to special or secret interests is a subject that we expect will receive a full airing during your confirmation hearing,” the senators wrote.
Pruitt is no stranger to the EPA, at least not in court. The attorney general has sued the agency a number of times attempting to halt regulations. He is currently representing Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit in which 27 states and a number of allied groups are seeking to eliminate the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, carbon emission standards for existing coal-fired power plants.
Carper had his own list of demands for Pruitt, which he sent in a Dec. 28 letter. “My Democratic EPW colleagues and I are committed to a full and fair confirmation process; however, it should come as no surprise that we are deeply troubled by some of your past actions and comments,” he wrote.
Carper’s letter included more than five pages of questions for Pruitt, including what undergraduate and postgraduate science courses he has taken; if, as EPA administrator, he would recuse himself from current cases against the EPA in which he is a party; and if agrees with NASA’s conclusion that “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
Pruitt has suggested in prior comments that he is skeptical of humankind’s impact on the climate. “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in a May editorial in the National Review.
Contrary to what Pruitt has said, there is scientific consensus on the existence of climate change. “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities,” NASA has pointed out.
Both Carper and the group of committee members have defended their exhaustive questioning of Pruitt. Citing a request for information from panel Republicans to current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during her confirmation process, Whitehouse suggested that such a vetting process is par for the course. “The American people and members of this body deserve to have their concerns addressed and their questions answered, especially given Mr. Pruitt’s record. As this process continues, I look forward to evaluating Mr. Pruitt’s responses to the questions that have been asked of him and more closely examining his vision for the agency,” Cardin said in a prepared statement.
Unsurprisingly, Pruitt is having a much easier time on the other side of the aisle. “I enjoyed meeting with Attorney General Pruitt and congratulated him on his nomination to be the next EPA administrator,” new Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a prepared statement after a Tuesday meeting with Pruitt. “We had a good conversation focused on policy and reforms that are necessary at the agency. He has excellent insights on how to help the EPA better meet its mission of protecting the environment while growing the American economy. I look forward to continuing these conversations at his confirmation hearings.”