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EPA Critic To Get Sharp Questions On Industry Ties As He Vies To Run Agency

20 hours ago
Originally published on January 18, 2017 11:26 am

A live stream of this confirmation hearing is available via C-SPAN.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been among the most controversial picks for Donald Trump's Cabinet. In part, that's because the Environmental Protection Agency nominee has said things like this:

"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."

As Oklahoma's lead attorney, Pruitt has also been a leader in going after the environmental agency, joining other Republican attorneys general in lawsuits to try to stop, among other things, ozone and methane emissions regulations and Obama's signature climate plan.

Pruitt has also been public in his defense of coal, oil and natural gas — all industries the EPA oversees. In a 2013 interview he said, "I think the attitude with the EPA and certain environmental groups is that fossil fuels are bad — period. And they're doing everything they can to use the rule-making process to attack."

For all this, he may face stiff opposition in Wednesday's confirmation hearing.

"This is not somebody who should be leading the Environmental Protection Agency," says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Pruitt has basically made his career working to tear down, or at least challenge, environmental and public health safeguards. So why does he want to lead EPA?"

Brune hopes the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asks tough questions about that Wednesday — and about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions that Pruitt has received from the fossil fuel industry.

Pruitt, who declined requests for an interview, has been less active than his predecessor in the Oklahoma attorney general's office in pursuing environmental cases. Court records and data collected by the Environmental Working Group also suggest Pruitt stalled a state lawsuit regarding water pollution from chicken manure after receiving contributions linked to the poultry industry.

Kay Mills of Missouri worries that big corporations will have Pruitt's ear on policy. She and other members of the Moms Clean Air Force traveled to Washington, D.C., to pressure their senators to reject Pruitt's nomination.

"I'm really concerned about Scott Pruitt's rejection of science," Mills says. "In particular, his rejection of the science around mercury pollution. As a pregnant mother ... I've been thinking a lot about mercury and how that impacts my unborn baby."

Pruitt's industry ties are seen as a good thing by many of his supporters, and he is likely to get a positive reception from Republican senators from fossil-fuel-producing states. Groups representing drillers and miners say their economic concerns were largely ignored over the past eight years.

"We can achieve the goals of environmental improvement without sacrificing our economic development, energy security, jobs," Marty Durbin of the American Petroleum Institute told reporters in endorsing Pruitt.

Pruitt also has been enthusiastically endorsed by nearly two dozen conservative advocacy groups who feel the EPA under President Obama has overreached. In a joint statement, groups including the American Energy Alliance and Americans for Tax Reform call Pruitt a "stalwart defender against federal intrusion into state and individual rights."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So many Cabinet nominees, so little time. One of the nominees who has a hearing today is Scott Pruitt. He is the attorney general of Oklahoma - now President-elect Trump's nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. He faces opposition because of his ties to fossil fuel industries and his questioning of climate science. Joe Wertz of StateImpact Oklahoma has more on what to expect.

JOE WERTZ, BYLINE: Scott Pruitt has been public with his defense of coal and oil and natural gas - industries the federal agency oversees. Here's what he told me in 2013.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SCOTT PRUITT: I think the attitude with the EPA and certain environmental groups is that fossil fuels are bad, period. And they're doing everything they can to use the rule-making process to attack.

WERTZ: Since then, Pruitt has become a leader in counter-attacking. He's joined other Republican attorneys general to fight EPA regulations with federal lawsuits - on ozone, methane emissions and Obama's signature climate plan.

MICHAEL BRUNE: This is not somebody who should be leading the Environmental Protection Agency.

WERTZ: Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club.

BRUNE: Mr. Pruitt has basically made his career working to tear down, or at least challenge, environmental and public health safeguards. Why does he want to lead EPA if that's what he's spent his career doing?

WERTZ: Brune also hopes the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asks tough questions about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Pruitt has received from fossil fuel industries.

KAY MILLS: He's taking a lot of campaign contributions from big corporate polluters. I'm afraid that that's where he's going to get his information.

WERTZ: That's Kay Mills from Missouri. She's part of the Moms Clean Air Force, a national group of women who traveled to D.C. to pressure their senators to reject Pruitt's nomination.

MILLS: Because I'm really concerned about Scott Pruitt's rejection of science - in particular, his rejection of the science around mercury pollution. As a pregnant mother, you know, I've been thinking a lot about mercury and how that impacts my unborn baby.

WERTZ: Pruitt has been less active than his predecessor in the Oklahoma AG's office in pursuing environmental cases. Court records and data collected by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group also suggest Pruitt stalled a state lawsuit over water pollution from chicken manure after receiving contributions linked to the poultry industry. Pruitt declined requests for an interview. But Pruitt's industry ties are seen as a good thing by many of his supporters. And he's likely to get a positive reception from Republican senators from coal and oil and gas states.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTY DURBIN: Attorney General Pruitt has certainly shown a clear understanding of energy policy in his time in Oklahoma.

WERTZ: That's the American Petroleum Institute's Marty Durbin on a call with reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DURBIN: We can achieve the goals of environmental improvement, you know, without sacrificing, you know, our economic development, energy security, you know, jobs.

WERTZ: The coal industry has also come out in support of Pruitt's nomination to the EPA. Groups representing these drillers and miners say their economic concerns were largely ignored over the past eight years. For NPR News, I'm Joe Wertz in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.