Pruitt Won’t Commit To Recusal From Lawsuits He Brought Against EPA

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Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, on Wednesday would not commit to recusing himself from issues related to the lawsuits he brought against the EPA as attorney general of Oklahoma.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) noted that Pruitt has brought several lawsuits against EPA regulations, and noted that Pruitt would be “plaintiff, defendant, judge, and jury” if confirmed as the EPA administrator. He asked Pruitt to commit to recusing himself to issues related to the cases he brought against the EPA.

In response, Pruitt said he would follow the guidance of the EPA’s ethics office.

Markey then asked, “Are you saying you will not recuse yourself from the actual matters which you’re suing the EPA on right now as attorney general of Oklahoma for the time that you are the head of the EPA?”

“I’m not saying that at all, Senator,” Pruitt replied.

“You are saying that. Will you recuse yourself?” Markey asked.

Pruitt again said he would follow the guidance of the ethics office at the EPA.

“You’re not committing, and I think that’s a big mistake,” Markey said in response.

Update at 4:55 p.m.: Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) asked the last question of the hearing and questioned Pruitt about cross-border air pollution.

“Under your vision for EPA, it sounds like states would be left on their own to deal with this very complex problem,” he said. “How do states address this pollution, this kind of pollution you see demonstrated here, without the assistance of the EPA?”

“As I indicated earlier today I believe that as an example the cross-state air pollution rule to which you just referred is a very important authority that the EPA needs to exercise,” Pruitt replied. It needs to do so within the processes that have been provided by the statute, but it’s something that’s very important for the EPA to perform and execute.”

Update at 4:54 p.m.: Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) asked Pruitt about EPA regulation of mercury emissions.

“If confirmed can we have your assurances the EPA will continue to regulate mercury emissions from power plants under section 112 of the Clean Air Act and you will not refer to the states?” he asked.

“Mercury under section 112 is something that EPA should deal with and regulate,” Pruitt replied.

Update at 4:26 p.m.: Pruitt again refused to commit to recusing himself from ongoing litigation against the Clean Power Plan in which he is involved.

“Are you giving me a yes that you will not settle?” Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) asked.

“I will not engage in a sue and settle practice,” Pruitt responded. “I will recuse if directed by the EPA ethics counsel.”

“I know I’m not going to get you to recuse yourself from any of these cases, but I’m just telling you, it’s going to wind up being a huge conflict of interest if these attorneys general get to settle on their terms with the Trump administration and you’re sitting there in the middle of the room as that occurs,” Markey replied.

Update at 3:28 p.m.: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) brought up Pruitt’s earlier response about lead in drinking water and asked if he has studied the Flint water crisis.

“I was actually flabbergasted earlier today when in response to my colleague Sen. Cardin, whether you believe there’s any safe level of lead that children can consume. You responded by saying, and I quote, ‘Senator, that is not something I’ve reviewed or know about. I believe there’s some concern but I’ve not looked into the scientific research on that.’ You’re about become the EPA administrator — you are seeking to be the EPA administrator and you’re not looking to issue of lead in our drinking water supply?” Duckworth asked, adding that it was a “serious oversight” on Pruitt’s part. “Have you even studied the Flint water crisis in preparing for this hearing?”

In response, Pruitt said that the EPA “bears responsibility” for the water crisis in Flint and said that the agency should have acted more quickly.

Update at 3:01 p.m.: Pruitt said that he will not try to undo the endangerment finding, a determination from the EPA that greenhouse gas emissions damage the climate. The EPA has used the endangerment finding to form rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

“The endangerment finding is there and needs to be enforced and respected,” Pruitt said.

Update at 2:20 p.m.: Pruitt refused to reveal whether he raised any money for the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a conservative group that receives funding from the Koch brothers. And when asked if it would be a conflict of interest if Pruitt was involved in a group that received funding from companies with matters before the EPA, Pruitt would not say. He instead said that he has asked and will continue to ask the EPA’s ethics office for guidance.

“It gives me little comfort you are not willing to answer those questions here,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said in response.

Update at 2:03 p.m.: When asked whether he believes environmental regulations could actually spur economic growth by creating a need for new technology, Pruitt replied, “I do.”

Update at 12:43 p.m.: Pruitt said he was “very concerned” about the link between fracking in Oklahoma and earthquakes in the state. But he would not list any public statements he has made on the issue and said that another agency in the state was charged with addressing it. These comments came after he also declined to say that the U.S. should transform its energy system in order to reduce the impact of climate change and instead said that the EPA has an “important role” in reducing carbon emissions.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was not satisfied with Pruitt’s responses and said, “If that’s the kind of EPA administrator you will be, you’re not going to get my vote.”

Update at 11:48 a.m.: Pruitt would not commit to recusing himself from lawsuits that he brought against the EPA as the attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt said that he will recuse himself from those cases for the first year, but that after that period, he will consult the EPA’s ethics office on a case-by-case basis.

“I think that’s a big mistake,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) told Pruitt, adding that Pruitt leading the EPA will be like the “fox destroying the henhouse.”

Update at 11:46 a.m.: Pruitt diverged from Donald Trump’s statement on the campaign trail that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

“I do not believe that climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt said.

Update at 11:38 a.m.: Pruitt was prompted by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to acknowledge that in 2014, he sent a letter to the EPA on his office’s letterhead that used a letter drafted by an Oklahoma energy company, Devon Energy, almost word for word. Pruitt admitted that he sent the letter, but would not confirm what percentage of the letter came directly from Devon Energy.

Pruitt insisted that in sending the letter, he was “representing the interests of the state” by representing one of the state’s biggest industries.

Update at 11:32 a.m.: Pruitt avoided directly answering questions about campaign contributions be received from the fossil fuel industry. Watch his exchange with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

Update at 11:30 a.m.: Pruitt said that he has “not reviewed” the impact lead consumption has on humans and that he does not know if there is a safe level of lead that can be consumed by humans.

He added that he would be “very concerned” about lead in drinking water, but he said he has “not looked at a scientific research on that.”

Pruitt also said that the EPA should have enacted a quicker response to the crisis in Flint, Michigan, over lead in the town’s drinking water.

Update at 11:05 a.m.: Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) quizzed Pruitt about his decision to sure the EPA along with other states over regulations limiting mercury emissions from power plants. Pruitt said that he believes mercury emissions are dangerous and that it should be regulated. He later elaborated on mercury emissions while being questioned by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Pruitt said that his state took issue with the process the EPA went through to develop the mercury regulation, not the effort to regulate mercury itself.

Update at 10:36 a.m.: Pruitt tackled climate change head on in his opening remarks.

“Science tell us that the climate is changing,” he said. “Human impact in some manner impacts that change.”

But Pruitt said that the extent to which human activity contributes to climate change is still up for debate and called for “civility” when discussing the issue.

“The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be,” he said.

He also said that he rejects the “false paradigm” that if you are pro-energy, you must be against the environment.

Update at 10:31 a.m.: Pruitt’s home state senators, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), introduced Pruitt. Inhofe, one of the Senate’s most vocal climate deniers, touted how Pruitt “fought against federal overreach” as Oklahoma attorney general. Inhofe bashed the Obama administration’s “radical” and “overzealous” agenda that he said worked to “obstruct” the fossil fuel and agriculture industries. He said that Pruitt is an “expert at balancing economic growth with environmental stewardship.” Lankford described Pruitt as a “statesman” and a “dedicated public servant” who fought for states rights as an attorney general.

Update at 10:18 a.m.: Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works, introduced Pruitt at the hearing and pitched him as a qualified candidate to lead the EPA. Barrasso criticized the Obama administration’s EPA regulations and said that Pruitt would strike a balance between protecting the environment and allowing for economic growth.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the committee’s ranking member, discussed environmental threats facing the U.S., like air pollution and mercury poisoning, using those issues to highlight the importance of the EPA. Carper said that Pruitt’s views on the EPA are “troubling and in some cases deeply troubling.”

Original Story:

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt will appear before the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works on Wednesday morning for his confirmation hearing to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

The climate change skeptic and EPA antagonist will likely be met with tough questions from Democrats on climate change and environmental regulations he fought as a state attorney general.

Pruitt wrote in the National Review last year that the science behind climate change is “far from settled.” He’s also been part of 14 lawsuits against federal environmental regulations, including one brought by state attorneys general opposing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions.

Democrats vowed early on to make Pruitt’s nomination a challenge. Shortly after Trump announced plans to nominate the Oklahoma attorney general, Senate Democrats said they would pressure Republican senators who have said they believe in climate change to oppose Pruitt’s nomination.

“This is a four-alarm fire. We are going to do everything we can to stop his nomination,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said in December. “This is a full-fledged environmental emergency, and we have a person who’s not just a climate denier, but a professional climate denier.”

Democrats on the Environmental and Public Works committee will likely grill Pruitt on his beliefs about climate change and his ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Pruitt has ties to Devon Energy, an Oklahoma energy company, and a group called the Rule of Law Fund that receives funding from the Koch brothers. He was also linked to two PACs that received donations from the fossil fuel industry. Those groups have shut down now that Pruitt is under consideration to lead the EPA, but a new group has launched to counter “anti-business, environmental extremists” who oppose Pruitt.

Democrats are also poised to bring up Pruitt’s opposition to environmental regulations unrelated to climate change. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the ranking member of the committee, told the New Republic that senators may place emphasis on Pruitt’s decision to sue the federal government over a regulation limiting the amount of mercury emitted from power plants. Carper said that he is planning on bringing a panel of experts to the hearing, in part to discuss mercury poisoning.

“Scott Pruitt’s views are so far out of the mainstream that confirming him as the head of the EPA would be a mistake,” Carper told the New Republic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.
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