Overnight Energy: Takeaways from Pruitt's testimony | Inside the hearing rooms | Poll finds most disapprove of Pruitt | Wisconsin refinery explodes

Overnight Energy: Takeaways from Pruitt's testimony | Inside the hearing rooms | Poll finds most disapprove of Pruitt | Wisconsin refinery explodes
© Greg Nash

PRUITT IN THE HOUSE: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittZinke left some details off public calendar: report EPA watchdog faults ‘management weaknesses’ in Flint water crisis House completes first half of 2019 spending bills MORE faced two House subcommittees Thursday for more than six hours of testimony.

The hearings ran the gamut, with Democrats focusing on his scandals in ethics and spending and Republicans focusing on highlighting policies they like.

Here are some key takeaways.

 

1) Critics didn't appear to deliver a damaging blow.

Pruitt headed into the hearings with mounting controversies and growing calls for him to resign. But the hearings lacked some of the expected fireworks. And Pruitt had explanations ready for most of the spending and ethical questions that lawmakers presented Thursday.

"Facts are facts and fiction is fiction, A lie doesn't just become the truth because it's on the front page of a newspaper," Pruitt said in both of his opening statements to the Energy and Commerce Committee's subpanel on environment and the Appropriations Committee's subpanel on the Interior Department and EPA.

 

2) If any lawmakers were expecting apologies or contrition from Pruitt, they were disappointed.

Pruitt shifted blame on his use of first-class travel, unauthorized staff raises and construction of a soundproof privacy booth to staffers, his security detail and oversight authorities.

For his frequent first-class traveling, Pruitt cited a memo from the Office of the Inspector General outlining threats against him.

"I was flying coach. I made changes after the threats," he said, adding that he has since asked his security detail to let him fly coach.

On the agency's decision to approve substantial raises to two EPA staffers who had moved to Washington, D.C. from Oklahoma with Pruitt -- one of whom he described at the earlier hearing as a "close friend" -- the chief said he was not aware of the type or amount of the raises. He admitted however that he was aware of the raises -- contradicting a previous statement he'd made to Fox News.

Pruitt also repeatedly claimed that he was not aware of the exorbitant, nearly $43,000 cost of a privacy booth installed in his office last year. He said he did not sign off on the booth and blamed "career staffers" for being involved "from the beginning to the end."

 

3) Republicans focused on Pruitt's spending.

GOP lawmakers raised concerns that the controversies could undercut Pruitt's work at the EPA.

"I am concerned that the good progress being made on the policy front is being undercut by the allegations about your management of the agency and use of its resources," said Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenDominant internet platforms must disrupt themselves Hammond pardons raise fears of emboldened anti-government extremists Oregon ranchers pardoned by Trump fly home on Pence donor's private jet MORE (R-Ore.), chairman of Energy and Commerce. "These issues are too persistent to ignore."

They mostly focused on his allegedly exorbitant spending.

But Pruitt also received support from some GOP lawmakers, who saw him as the victim of unfair criticism.

"I apologize for the abrasiveness of some of my colleagues who would rather tarnish your character than really try to delve into the issues facing this great nation," said Rep. Jeff DuncanJeffrey (Jeff) Darren DuncanPavlich: Lessons from the left on incivility Bipartisan solution is hooked on facts, not fiction Five takeaways from Pruitt's big testimony MORE (R-S.C.).

 

Click here for more takeaways and our recap of the day.

 

And relive the hearings at our live blog.

 

Inside the hearing room: Protesting at Pruitt's hearings Thursday was relatively muted.

The biggest protest was when a group of attendees hoisted signs up behind Pruitt labeling him "Mr. Corruption."

Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusNew EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Unending Pruitt controversies leave Republicans frustrated Overnight Energy: House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuke waste plan | EPA won't reverse danger findings for paint stripping chemical | County sues oil companies over climate MORE (R-Ill.), chairing the hearing, threatened to have the attendees removed if they rose with the signs again, and they complied.

Some attendees were also wearing bright green "Impeach Pruitt" shirts. They were also outside when Pruitt drove to the hearing, along with a giant papier mache head meant to look like Pruitt.

What's next: Pruitt's appearance was widely seen as a make-or-break moment for his tenure in Trump's Cabinet.

While Democrats and environmentalists saw the hearing as a disaster for Pruitt, Trump is unlikely to see it that way. He's stood steadfast behind Pruitt up until now, and there's no indication that will change.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations subpanel with EPA authority, said she'll have Pruitt in for a hearing in May. That could provide another opportunity for Democrats to hit Pruitt over the same issues.

 

POLL FINDS MOST DISAPPROVE OF PRUITT: During the morning hearing, Quinnipiac University released a major poll, which included voters' approval of Pruitt.

Polltakers found that 52 percent of voters disapprove of his work at the EPA, compared with just 25 percent who approve.

Republicans were far more likely than Democrats to approve of Pruitt, at 51 percent to 7 percent.

See the results

 

REFINERY EXPLODES IN WISCONSIN: There was a big explosion at an oil refinery in northwestern Wisconsin Thursday, injuring 11 and forcing a major evacuation, the Associated Press reports.

A tanker car with either crude oil or asphalt exploded at the Husky Energy refinery in Superior, spurring an evacuation in a three-mile radius, and a bigger one where the smoke was blowing, AP said.

Initial reports had said multiple people were killed in the explosion, but it now appears that no one died.

The explosion shook a significant area in Superior and sent black smoke billowing into the sky.

Read more.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Trump's threats to scrap the Iran nuclear deal are spooking oil traders, Bloomberg News reports.

The UK's Environment Department is hiring 1,150 new staffers to deal with Brexit, Financial Times reports.

The French government plans to improve 500,000 homes to be more energy efficient each year, Reuters reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories ...

-IG: Threat memo cited by Pruitt isn't from IG

-Dem: Inspector general 'disputed' Pruitt's claims of death threats

-EPA chief reads threats he's received to lawmakers

-Pruitt: EPA lawyers said privacy booth was legal

-Pruitt: EPA staff was given authority to approve raises for staffers

-Protesters at hearing hoist 'Mr. Corruption' signs behind Pruitt

-More than 1,000 tropical islands may become 'uninhabitable' soon due to climate change: study

-Live coverage: Pruitt faces grilling in House hearings

-IG investigations cast shadow over Scott Pruitt