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 moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE on most of his policy decisions and promises since becoming administrator almost a year ago.

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Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperInstead of raising the gas tax, stop wasting money on frivolous projects To stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists 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) McCarthyIt's time for Congress to address the 'forever chemical' crisis Overnight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage 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 TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE's administration could do better.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthMissouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers Democrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall 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 WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court 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 InhofeNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran 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 BoozmanVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen MORE (R-Ark.) asked Pruitt how false claims about the EPA might "hurt morale."

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition 'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year 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.