President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, faced tough questioning in his senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday but remained staunchly intent on restricting and minimizing the role of the EPA.
Donald Trump put forward Scott Pruitt’s name to head up the EPA back in early December, a move which was greeted with the appropriate levels of shock and anger such a nomination deserves. Mr Pruitt repeatedly attacked President Obama’s climate change policies, out-and-out denied climate change, and has been an outspoken critic of the agency that Donald Trump now intends he head — claiming that the EPA’s regulations to protect water and air quality are overreaching, while also leading legal challenges to prevent the EPA from being involved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful pollutants.
Regarding climate change itself, Mr Pruitt wrote in the National Review last year:
“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”
Dissent might not be a crime, but it definitely makes you unqualified for this particular position.
Unsurprisingly then, Scott Pruitt’s Senate confirmation hearing has received a lot of attention — as have most of Donald Trump’s nominees. Mr Pruitt’s hearing was described by Gizmodo as “a surreal nightmare” — and it’s hard to disagree. Here is one line of questioning between Mr Pruitt and Senator Bernie Sanders:
Sanders: “Why is the climate changing? I’m asking your personal opinion.”
Pruitt: “My personal opinion is immaterial.”
Sanders: “Really? You are gonna be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?”
Senator Bernie Sanders continued to harangue Mr Pruitt, who would only commit to saying he believed human activity “impacted,” as opposed to “caused” climate change — an opinion that Senator Sanders was less than impressed with. “If that’s the kind of EPA administrator you would be, you’re not gonna get my vote.”
The full confirmation hearing is below — to watch Senator Bernie Sanders’ questioning Mr Pruitt, start watching around the 2hr-40min mark.
Nevertheless, Mr Pruitt had plenty of opportunity to explain his intentions if his nomination was approved.
“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 said. “In this nation, we can grow our economy, harvest the resources God has blessed us with, while also being good stewards of the air, land and water.”
Mr Pruitt was also tested on some of the legal cases he himself had brought against the EPA, specifically the provisions of the Clean Air Act and Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. At the time, Mr Pruitt described the policies as governmental overreach, to which Senator Cory Booker disagreed, raising the issue in the confirmation hearing with Mr Pruitt, and asking him why he had brought those legal cases.
“Each of these lawsuits… challenge attempts by the EPA to reduce air pollution,” Sen. Booker said. “In all of them except one, you filed those lawsuits joining with polluting companies that were also suing the EPA. It’s clear that you’ve worked very hard on behalf of these industries.”
“The state has to have an interest before it can bring those cases, as you know,” Pruitt replied, attempting to defend his actions. “You can’t just bring lawsuits if you don’t have standing if there’s not been some injury to the state of Oklahoma.”
“Injury?” Booker asked, seemingly taken aback. “Clearly asthma is triggered and caused by air pollutants. Clearly there’s an air pollution problem. And the fact that you have not brought suits against the industries that are causing the pollution is really problematic when you’re gonna sit in a position that is nationally gonna be affecting this reality.”
Mr Pruitt’s response? Air pollution does in fact cause asthma, but high asthma cases aren’t a result of environmental deregulation and corporate wrongdoing.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Pruitt’s performance at his confirmation hearing has not aleviated any concerns.
“At the hearing, Pruitt, who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, failed to definitively demonstrate he would be committed to controlling climate change and protecting public health,” said Sam Adams, US Director of the World Resources Institute.
“While Pruitt did acknowledge that EPA has a ‘role to play’ in regulating carbon dioxide emissions, he fell short in making it clear that he intends to fulfil the agency’s mandate to reduce emissions.
“On the positive side, he did indicate that he will stand up for the ‘endangerment finding,’ which is the legal foundation for EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, established by the Supreme Court in 2007. Senators should continue to press Pruitt to ensure he would continue EPA’s leading role in addressing climate change.
“It’s noteworthy that Pruitt was grilled on his views on climate at the same time that NASA confirmed 2016 was the hottest year on record. We cannot afford to have an EPA administrator who fails to grasp the urgency of addressing climate change.”
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