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: Fight between EPA watchdog, agency lawyers heats up | Top EPA official under investigation over document destruction | DOJ issues subpoenas to automakers in California emissions pact Top EPA official under investigation in document destruction EPA rolls back rule on waste from coal-fired power plants MORE on most of his policy decisions and promises since becoming administrator almost a year ago.

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Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder Liz Cheney applauds Trump for pulling out of Paris climate agreement Overnight Energy: Trump formally pulls out of landmark Paris climate pact | EPA to ease rules on waste from coal-fired power plants | States, green groups sue to save Obama lightbulb rules 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) McCarthyOvernight 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 Overnight Energy: Automakers group sides with Trump in emissions lawsuit | Latest on California wildfires | Walden won't seek reelection | Park Service scraps plan to charge protesters for security 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 TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE's administration could do better.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthSenate Democrat introduces bill to protect military families from deportation Nuclear command nominee sidesteps questions on arms control treaties Senate Dems ask Trump Organization for information on dealings with Turkey 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 WhitehouseDemocratic senators seek documents on Trump's alleged call for Barr press conference Senate committee advances budget reform plan Bipartisan Enzi-Whitehouse budget bill a very bad fix for deficits 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 InhofeEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Overnight Defense: Pentagon says Syrian oil revenue going to Kurdish forces | GOP chair accuses Dems of using Space Force as leverage in wall fight | Dems drop plans to seek Bolton testimony GOP senator: House Democrats using Space Force as leverage in border wall fight 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 BoozmanEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid VA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal MORE (R-Ark.) asked Pruitt how false claims about the EPA might "hurt morale."

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Senate talks on stalled Violence Against Women Act reauthorization unravel 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.