Dems go on the attack during EPA chief's hearing

Democratic senators wasted no time Tuesday hounding the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over his regulatory rollbacks and potential ulterior motives at the agency.

Amid relentless questioning during the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Democrats used all tools at their disposal, including audio, in an effort to challenge the EPA's Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' Court sides with scientists on EPA policy barring grantees from serving on agency boards Overnight Energy: Senate energy bill stalled amid amendment fight | Coronavirus, oil prices drive market meltdown | Green groups say Dem climate plan doesn't go far enough MORE on most of his policy decisions and promises since becoming administrator almost a year ago.

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Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Tentative deal would slash global oil production by 10 percent| Democrat questions WH transparency in rollback of bedrock environmental law Democrat questions WH transparency in rollback of bedrock environmental law Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic MORE (D-Del.), the ranking member, set the tone early on by thanking Pruitt for making his first appearance at the committee, before critiquing him for taking so long to do so.

"I'd note for the record that your immediate predecessor, Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthy Trump ignores science at our peril Green groups push for environmental protections in stimulus package Overnight Energy: Trump budget slashes EPA funding | International hunting council disbands amid lawsuit | Bill targets single-use plastics MORE, appeared before this committee six times in two years, while her predecessor, Lisa Jackson, appeared before us 14 times in six years. You can do better on this front and it's important that you do," Carper said.

Other members challenged Pruitt on recent changes the EPA made to its clean air policy and its plans for toxic chemical cleanup. EPA's new air policy lets some polluting facilities no longer be subject to strict rules for ‘major’ sources of emissions.

Pruitt recently announced a "war on lead," pointing to the Obama administration's failure to prevent the Flint water crisis as an example of an area President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders says he wouldn't 'drop dead' if Trump decided on universal healthcare Overnight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Hillicon Valley: State officials push for more election funds | Coronavirus surveillance concerns ramp up pressure for privacy bill | Senators warned not to use Zoom | Agencies ask FCC to revoke China Telecom's license MORE's administration could do better.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Navy chief resigns over aircraft carrier controversy | Trump replaces Pentagon IG | Hospital ship crew member tests positive for coronavirus Navy chief resigns amid uproar over handling of aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Tammy Duckworth calls on acting Navy secretary to resign MORE (D-Ill.) said Pruitt's so-called war didn't hold water. "Unfortunately your rhetoric does not match your actions — your administration would make it harder, not easier, to limit lead exposure," she said.

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Duckworth additionally criticized Pruitt's recent trip to Morocco, where it was reported that he negotiated sales of natural gas.

"I don’t understand what the sale of natural gas has to do with the EPA’s mission," Duckworth told Pruitt, before adding that perhaps it was something that he would do if he were running for the governor of his home state, Oklahoma.

Pruitt promised the committee that he was "committed to performing the work that is necessary to meet our mission of protecting human health and the environment." He added that there remained "important challenges left to tackle," speaking specifically about his areas of recent focus, which include cleaning up Superfund sites.

While Democrats hit Pruitt with question after question, most failed to land any real blows as the EPA chief resisted answering a number of questions directly.

Senators pressed Pruitt to answer only yes or no questions. But the administrator, who has a background as a prosecutor, largely avoided being held to short answers. 

In one striking moment, Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseWarren: Congress should remove funding cap for small business aid in coronavirus bill Democratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights | Court sides with tribes in Dakota Access Pipeline case | Trump officials walk away from ethanol court fight MORE (D-R.I.) added to the record audio of Pruitt in 2016 saying he considered Trump "abusive" to the constitution.

Unprepared, Pruitt said he didn't remember saying those things. 

Shortly after the hearing, Pruitt released a statement reaffirming his positive thoughts of the president.

"After meeting him, and now having the honor of working for him, it is abundantly clear that President Trump is the most consequential leader of our time.  No one has done more to advance the rule of law than President Trump. The President has liberated our country from the political class and given America back to the people," he said in the statement.

The questioning style on the other side of the aisle was a stark contrast. 

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeKudlow slams senators who allegedly traded stock before pandemic House Republicans threaten pushback on Saudi Arabia amid oil market slump Navy chief resigns amid uproar over handling of aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis MORE (R-Okla.) greeted Pruitt by first saying "I get the impression they don’t like you." Inhofe then commended Pruitt's EPA for the economic benefits the agency created from cutting regulations.

Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanOn The Money: Stocks have worst week in a decade on coronavirus fears | Fed chief hints at rate cut | Trump pushes central bank for action | Kudlow advises investors to 'think about buying the dip' Republicans growing nervous about 2020 economy Overnight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip MORE (R-Ark.) asked Pruitt how false claims about the EPA might "hurt morale."

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstAs we have united when tested in the past, Americans are working together to fight coronavirus The Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders exits, clearing Biden's path to nomination Democrats target Ernst in bid to expand Senate map MORE (R-Iowa) credited the EPA's rollback of the Clean Water Act, also known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, for dropping unemployment in her state.

"Under your leadership EPA has taken back necessary actions to walk back destruction Obama era rules—like WOTUS and the Clean Power Plan," Ernst told Pruitt.