The Environmental Protection Agency is required under law to regulate carbon emissions, Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the regulator, said Wednesday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “There is currently an obligation to deal with the issue. The Massachusetts v. EPA case says that CO2 is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and as such that’s what generated the 2009 endangerment finding. I think there is a legal obligation presently for the EPA administrator to respond to the CO2 issue with the proper regulations,” Pruitt said.
The federal case was decided in 2007 and determined that the EPA is required to regulate carbon and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. However, to do so, the agency first had to determine that those greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. This endangerment finding was completed in 2009.
Pruitt, while he admits the EPA is required to regulate CO2, has fought the agency every step of the way, filing or joining in on several lawsuits, one ongoing, on behalf of the state of Oklahoma against the agency for its attempts to regulate the carbon emissions of coal-fired power plants.
At issue, he said, is that the EPA did not follow the rules in its regulation of coal plant carbon emissions, the Clean Power Plan. According to Pruitt, in drafting the CPP, EPA went beyond the authority given to it in the Clean Air Act by trying to base emissions reduction targets on measures taken “outside the fence line,” as opposed to limiting the regulation to actions that can be taken at the plant itself. “They did not go through the proper processes of inside the fence and regulation of power generation,” he said.
The case against the Clean Power Plan pits 27 states including Oklahoma and numerous trade organization, utilities, and power generators, against the EPA. A 10-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is reviewing the case, and a decision is pending.
The fact that Pruitt is involved in several ongoing lawsuits (eight in total, including the one against the CPP) against the agency he intends to lead was a large focus of Wednesday’s confirmation hearing. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) repeatedly tried to get Pruitt to commit to recusing himself from any matters related to areas in which he has sued the agency. “As EPA administrator, you would be in a position to serve as plaintiff, defendant, judge, and jury on these ongoing eight lawsuits and that would be wrong,” Markey said.
Pruitt would not commit to recuse himself, but said that he would follow the recommendations of the EPA’s ethics counsel.
Pruitt’s tendency to side with industry in his lawsuits also caused tension during his hearing. “You’ve joined or filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA challenging clear air and clean water rules,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said. “All of them challenge attempts by the EPA to reduce air pollution. In all of them except one, you filed those lawsuits joining with polluting companies that were also suing the EPA.”
“The EPA is for all of the people of the United States, not just the fossil fuel industry of Oklahoma,” Markey added later.
As with Trump’s picks for secretary of state, secretary of energy, and secretary of the interior, panel Democrats laid into Pruitt on his recorded denial of climate change.
Pruitt has suggested 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 2015 editorial in the National Review.
Contrary to that position, there is scientific consensus on the existence of climate change. According to NASA, at least 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends are “extremely likely” due to human activities.
Committee members noted that consensus repeatedly during the hearing. Several Democrats ask Pruitt point-blank if he believes in climate change, a point of view that would put him in conflict with Trump’s stated opinion that climate change is a hoax. “Is Donald Trump wrong that climate change is a hoax?” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked Pruitt, leading to a tense interaction.
“That is correct, senator,” Pruitt said, going on to state that “the climate is changing, and human activity contributed to that in some manner.”
Sanders noted the 97 percent figure and demanded Pruitt’s personal belief on climate change, to which Pruitt responded, “My personal opinion is immaterial.”
“Really? You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?” Sanders fired back before stating “you’re not going to get my vote.”