Hearing Update: Senate Environment Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for EPA Administrator Nominee

Lewis-Burke Associates LLC – January 23, 2017

On January 18, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (Senate EPW) held a confirmation hearing for President Trump’s nominee for Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.  Partisan divisions were apparent from the outset, with Senate EPW Members clashing with Mr. Pruitt and each other on a range of issues including Mr. Pruitt’s environmental record, climate science, and EPA’s regulatory powers.  Mr. Pruitt is likely to be confirmed, though the vote will almost certainly fall along party lines.

One major point of contention was the issue of climate change.  During the hearing, Mr. Pruitt acknowledged that climate change is occurring but expressed doubts about the extent to which human activity is impacting it.  Senate EPW Democrats highlighted this as a basis for their concern over his nomination, with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stating that he would not vote for a nominee who did not recognize the scientific consensus on the role that greenhouse gas emissions are playing in climate change.  Mr. Pruitt responded to such criticisms by stressing that all policies adopted by EPA under his leadership would be based on “objective” science.

Much of the discussion focused on water quality, an issue that will continue to generate congressional scrutiny given the crisis in Flint, Michigan and President Trump’s interest in overhauling the nation’s infrastructure.  Mr. Pruitt expressed the opinion that EPA has an important role to play in ensuring that all communities have access to clean water, and emphasized that water quality and distribution should be part of any broader infrastructure discussion.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee questioned Mr. Pruitt about his views on EPA’s role as a regulator.  As Oklahoma Attorney General, Mr. Pruitt led numerous lawsuits against EPA on the basis that the agency was overstepping statutory limitations on its rulemaking powers.  Senate EPW Democrats attempted to characterize these lawsuits as evidence that Mr. Pruitt would not exercise the authority necessary to regulate environmental quality.  Mr. Pruitt argued that his past legal actions as Attorney General were focused on the rulemaking process, and did not reflect blanket opposition to EPA’s ability to curb carbon emissions or limit groundwater contamination.  This view was validated by Senate EPW Republicans, many of whom expressed concerns that EPA under the Obama Administration had abused its regulatory authority and consequently stifled economic growth.

EPA-supported science was rarely discussed, however Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) expressed concerns about the composition of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB).  Senator Rounds urged Mr. Pruitt to encourage more diverse geographic representation on the EPA SAB and to include more state and local entities in its membership.

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