Energy & Environment

Week ahead: EPA chief to face grilling on reg rollback

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt will head to a Senate committee this week for his first oversight hearing in that chamber since taking the job.

Pruitt is due to testify Tuesday morning as the sole witness at an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.

The event is likely to highlight Democratic senators’ strong objections and Republicans’ warm support for Pruitt’s aggressive deregulatory agenda in his nearly one year in office.

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Pruitt has started to roll back nearly all of the major elements of the Obama administration’s EPA agenda, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule.

He has even started to dig further back than Obama, with a regulatory change this week that lets some major polluting facilities be subject to less stringent air emissions standards.

Democrats on the Environment Committee, led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) have been vocal about their objections. They see Pruitt as one of the most dangerous administrators in the agency’s history, and they are likely to be aggressive in their questioning.

The Republicans, led by Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), have also been vocal about Pruitt, often praising his environmental rollbacks. They are likely to push back hard against Democratic criticisms.

Both the House and Senate will be in session in the coming week. All eyes will also be on President Trump when he delivers his first State of the Union address Tuesday.

Expect Trump to tout his energy agenda.

Trump has highlighted opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas drilling and pledging to pull out of the Paris climate agreement as two of his key energy and environmental accomplishments. He’s also boasted about his aggressive deregulatory agenda across the government, which he is likely to spotlight as well.

Elsewhere in the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote Tuesday on four Trump administration nominees: Melissa Burnison for the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, Susan Combs for the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, Ryan Nelson for Interior’s solicitor and Anne White for Energy’s assistant secretary for environmental management.

Combs and Nelson were both nominated and had committee votes last year. But the Senate had to send them back to the White House at the end of the year because it could not get unanimous consent to hold them over to 2018.

Combs and Nelson are subject to a hold by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). The senator wants assurances from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that Florida’s waters are removed from the Trump administration’s upcoming offshore drilling plan

The hold means that if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wanted to schedule votes for Combs and Nelson in the full Senate, he would need to schedule 30 hours of debate for each one.

After that Energy Committee vote, the panel will hold a hearing on natural hazards, featuring officials from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Forest Service and other stakeholders.

On the House side, the Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the Energy Department’s management and priorities. Lawmakers will hear from Paul Dabbar, undersecretary for science, and Mark Menezes, undersecretary for energy. 

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Tags Bill Nelson Donald Trump John Barrasso Mitch McConnell Ryan Zinke Scott Pruitt Tom Carper

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