EPA nominee appears in confirmation hearing as new data shows 2016 hottest year on record

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) questions Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, EPA Administrator nominee during confirmation hearings in the Senate Environment and Public Works. (Photo Credit: C-span)

The intense schedule of Senate confirmation hearings continued today with four simultaneous hearings for the positions to lead the departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the post of ambassador to the United Nations. Robert Packard reports on the confirmation hearing for EPA Administer nominee, Scott Pruitt.

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Wednesday’s Senate confirmation hearing for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, got off to a cozy start with supportive words from Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“Attorney General Pruitt understands the need to both protect the environment while allowing our nation’s economy to grow. The agency needs a leader who will follow the laws created by this committee. During the last eight years, EPA Administrators created broad and legally questionable new regulations which have undermined the American people’s faith in the agency,” Barrasso said. “These regulations have done great damage to the livelihoods of our nation’s hardest working citizens. The regulatory zeal of the least eight years has violated a fundamental principle of environmental stewardship, which is ‘do no harm.’”

Attacking Obama-era environmental regulations has been a rallying cry among officials in Republican-led states, dozens of whom banded together to stall the Clean Power Plan through litigation.

One of those states is Oklahoma, where Scott Pruitt has repeatedly used his office as Attorney General to sue the agency he’s now been nominated to lead.

“In this nation we can grow our economy, harvest the resources God has blessed us with, while also being good stewards of the air, land and water by which we’ve been favored,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt wrapped up his prepared statement with a remark about what was inevitably going to come up in the question and answer session: his so-called ‘skepticism’ of the human role in changing the planet’s climate.

“We should encourage open and civil discourse. One such issue where civil discourse is absent involves climate change. Let me say to you: science tells us the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change,” said Pruitt. “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”

While the Pruitt confirmation hearing was underway, top government climate scientists were on a teleconference presenting their annual release of data on global temperatures and climate trends.

“We’re fairly confident that 2016 is the warmest year on record,” points out Deke Arndt, head of the global monitoring branch of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “Because of the cycle of our annual reporting, we tend to focus on the previous year, but as far as what’s most important to us going forward is it is the long term trend that is the most relevant. This is 2016 being the warmest year on record; it’s a data point at the end of many data points that indicate several decades of warming that continues. I think that’s where it’s the most relevant in context.”

The climate experts on Wednesday’s call said they’ve observed particular trends in changes to the Arctic’s climate, namely that it’s warming at two to three times the rate of the global mean.

Back on Capitol Hill, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse aired concerns about conflicts-of-interest related to the history of financial relationships between Pruitt and the fossil fuel companies he would be tasked with regulating.

“You helped raise money for the Republican Attorney Generals Association. While you were a member of its executive committee, they received $530,000 from Koch Industries, $350,000 from Murray Energy, $160,000 from ExxonMobil and $125,000 from Devon Energy, the company whose letter you transposed onto your letterhead and sent as an Oklahoma Attorney General document. Did you solicit, in your role at the Republican Attorney Generals Association, any of that funding?” Whitehouse asked Pruitt.

“I’m unable to confirm if they gave those numbers, Senator. Those amounts that you asked, there is an equal number…” Pruitt began responding.

Whitehouse, however, cut him off and repeated his question: “Did you solicit funding from them in your role at the Republican Attorney Generals Association?”

“I attended fundraising events as an Attorney General, along with Attorneys General with respect to the RAGA,” Pruitt said.

“And did you solicit? Did you ask them for money for Raga?” Whitehouse pressed.

“As I indicated, I attended fundraising events.”

“That’s different,” Whitehouse said.

EPA nominee Scott Pruitt joins a handful of other high-ranking nominees who have publicly expressed positions antithetical to the purpose of the entities they’ve been tapped to run. But if Republicans vote along party lines, they’ll easily obtain the simple majority required for confirmation to office.

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