Scott Pruitt, Testifying to Lead E.P.A., Criticizes Environmental Rules

Source: By CORAL DAVENPORT, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2017

WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, offered a vision of a far smaller and more restrained agency at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday. He criticized federal rules protecting air and water and tackling climate change, and forcefully advocated a states’ rights approach to environmental regulation.

Faulting the agency for what he called overreach under President Obama, Mr. Pruitt said that as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he had seen “examples where the agency became dissatisfied with the tools Congress had given it to address certain issues, and bootstrapped its own powers and tools through rule-making.”

Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee pressed Mr. Pruitt aggressively on his record, noting that he had sued the E.P.A. 14 times in an effort to block federal air and water pollution regulations. In particular, the senators criticized Mr. Pruitt repeatedly about letters drafted by energy lobbyists that were sent on state stationery to federal agencies and even to Mr. Obama, outlining the economic hardship threatened by the environmental rules.

Speaking to critics who have said that Mr. Pruitt has worked on behalf of the energy industry and his campaign donors rather than the public good, he said, “We must reject as a nation the false paradigm that if you’re pro-energy you’re anti-environment, and if you’re pro-environment you’re anti-energy.”

Mr. Pruitt was introduced by Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who is Congress’s most prominent member in rejecting the established science of human-caused climate change.

Mr. Inhofe praised Mr. Pruitt as a “champion of state and individual rights” who had “fought against federal overreach.”

“Yes, as attorney general, Scott fought the E.P.A., the Fish and Wildlife Service and the outgoing administration on many fronts, but all of these suits were brought to protect state and local interests from overzealous and activist agencies,” Mr. Inhofe said.

Both environmental activists and coal miners crammed into the hallway outside the Senate hearing room where Mr. Pruitt was testifying, a show of robust opposition to and support for the nominee for an agency that Mr. Trump has said he wants to essentially dismantle. Protesters, some dressed in oil rig gear and pink knitted hats associated with the women’s march against Mr. Trump planned for Saturday, occasionally broke into the room, shouting, “We don’t want the E.P.A. gutted!”

Still, it is highly likely that Mr. Pruitt will be confirmed by the full Senate. He is expected to receive support from all 51 Senate Republicans and from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.

Mr. Pruitt addressed climate change directly in his opening remarks, saying: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and human activity in some manner impacts that change. The human ability to measure with precision the extent of that impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.”

That statement is not consistent with the scientific consensus on climate change. A 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that reviews and summarizes climate science, found it “extremely likely” that more than half of the global warming that occurred from 1951 to 2010 was a consequence of human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Mr. Pruitt’s hearing took place on the same day that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2016 was the hottest year on record, surpassing marks set in 2015 and 2014.

Among the largest and most contentious regulatory obligations facing the E.P.A. will be the enactment of Mr. Obama’s signature climate change policy, the Clean Power Plan, which would require states to curb their planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants. Mr. Pruitt has played a leading role in a 27-state lawsuit against it, accusing the agency of vastly overstepping its authority.

However, Mr. Pruitt said that he would not revisit a landmark 2009 E.P.A. finding that carbon dioxide emissions endanger human life by warming the planet. That finding created the legal requirement that the E.P.A. regulate those climate-warming emissions. “It is there, and it needs to be enforced and respected,” Mr. Pruitt said. “There is nothing that I know that would cause it to be reviewed.”

But Senate Democrats pressed Mr. Pruitt to recuse himself from regulatory decisions on cases he has filed against the agency, including the Clean Power Plan.

“What the American people are expecting here is that the E.P.A. doesn’t turn into every polluters’ ally,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts. “The only way to do that is for you to recuse yourself from every case you brought.”

Mr. Pruitt responded that the E.P.A.’s ethics counsel had advised him that he must recuse himself from cases in which he had a role as plaintiff, if they were filed within a year of the time he would review them as E.P.A. administrator. But he would not commit to recusing himself from all the cases he had brought.

While Mr. Pruitt repeatedly stressed his view that environmental regulation should primarily be the purview of the states, he said the E.P.A. could have taken a more forceful role in responding to the crisis over lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich.

He acknowledged a lack of familiarity with lead poisoning. “I would be very concerned about any level of lead going into a human body, but I’m not familiar with specific research on that,” he said.

After Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, pressed Mr. Pruitt on the crisis, he responded: “In Flint, the E.P.A. should have acted faster. With air quality, water quality across state lines, there is a role where E.P.A. is important.”

But he noted that state-level water infrastructure was the problem in Flint. “Water infrastructure is very important,” he said. “The states play a vital role.”