What Congress needs to know before fast-tracking the nomination of this EPA pick

Elgie Holstein

If there wasn’t so much at stake, it might have been amusing to watch the majority members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at work on Thursday.

They were forced to suspend the committee’s own rules to advance the nomination of Scott Pruitt to become the next administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Their unusual action was prompted when, for the second day in a row, Democratic members of the committee boycotted the meeting to protest the chairman’s plan to move the nomination forward, even though Pruitt hadn’t provided important information about his ties to big energy interests and other key issues.

Pruitt supporters are determined to get the full Senate to confirm their nominee at any cost, a man who has sued the EPA 14 times to stop fundamental clean air, climate and public health protections. But before rushing this nominee into office there are some things lawmakers need to know.

A chilling environmental record

As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt has chosen to fight for oil companies and other big polluters over protecting the people of his state.

For that, and for other reasons that have emerged over the last couple of weeks, he may well be the most ill-suited senior presidential nominee in years. 

Pruitt has dodged questions about some of the most critical environmental challenges facing our nation today, challenges such as mercury pollution and climate change which the EPA has a mandate to tackle.

In a hearing before the committee last week, he refused to promise his future support for existing EPA safeguards on mercury pollution and air toxics from power plants – while stopping well short of promising to continue the agency’s efforts to limit dangerous carbon pollution.

Of course, we already know where he stands on one of the most important of those – the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt helped lead a group of states that challenged the plan in court, where it faces a potential fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

With last year recorded as the third consecutive hottest year on record, was that obstructive action by Pruitt the kind of leadership the country needs on climate change?

The hearing raised troubling questions about his acceptance of campaign money from big polluters.

Pruitt’s answers to committee members raised additional troubling questions about his acceptance of campaign money from big polluters whose views he championed with his multiple lawsuits against the EPA. His refusal to recuse himself permanently from conflicts of interest raised by his filing of those suits was another troubling issue.

As one senator put it, if Pruitt is confirmed as EPA administrator without first recusing himself on the matters raised in his lawsuits – a number of which are still pending – he could end up being “plaintiff, defendant, judge and jury” on those cases.

But here we are, watching lawmakers with a majority power and an evident disregard for protecting some of the nation’s core environmental protections, bend the rules to put an unfit nominee in charge of the EPA – the agency Americans trust and rely on to protect their water, air and children’s health.

They are doing the American people, who deserve better than Scott Pruitt, a monumental disservice. 

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