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: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards MORE on most of his policy decisions and promises since becoming administrator almost a year ago.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House 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: Joshua Tree National Park lost M in fees due to shutdown | Dem senator, AGs back case against oil giants | Trump officials secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada Overnight Energy: Ethics panel clears Grijalva over settlement with staffer | DC aims to run on 100 percent clean energy by 2032 | Judges skeptical of challenge to Obama smog rule Judges skeptical of case against Obama smog rule 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 TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE's administration could do better.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration Dem senator thinks Senate may be able to block emergency declaration Trump’s new Syria timetable raises concern among key anti-ISIS allies 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.

ADVERTISEMENT


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 WhitehouseGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks 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 InhofeOn The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency Foreign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' 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 BoozmanGOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Ark.) asked Pruitt how false claims about the EPA might "hurt morale."

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstPush for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 Ivanka Trump to meet with GOP senators to discuss paid family leave legislation On The Money: Negotiators aiming to reach deal Monday night | Why border talks stalled | Treasury calls reports on dip in tax refunds 'misleading' | Cuomo, Trump to discuss SALT deduction cap 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.