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 PruittEPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity EPA's independent science board questions underpinnings of numerous agency rollbacks Overnight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses MORE on most of his policy decisions and promises since becoming administrator almost a year ago.

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Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperAdvancing a bipartisan conservation legacy The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge Trump's latest water policy exposes sharp divides 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) McCarthyTrump's latest water policy exposes sharp divides Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group 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 TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE's administration could do better.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthAmtrak ends policy that led to K charge for activists using wheelchairs #MidnightMoscowMitch trends amid criticism of McConnell's proposed impeachment trial rules Democratic senator asks for meeting with Amtrak head over alleged disability discrimination 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 WhitehouseDemocrats urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency from chopping block Citizens United decision weathers 10 years of controversy Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change 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 InhofeBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Senators take oath for impeachment trial 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 BoozmanAppropriators fume over reports of Trump plan to reprogram .2 billion for wall The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (R-Ark.) asked Pruitt how false claims about the EPA might "hurt morale."

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Grassley signs USMCA, sending it to Trump's desk Progressive group launches campaign targeting vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment 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.