Encouraging EPA to Strengthen Air Quality Standards
Feb 24, 2023
By Darien Davis, Congressional Champions Project Assistant for the League of Conservation Voters
During the chaos of confirmation hearings for President Trump’s rigged Cabinet of Big Polluters and climate science deniers this month, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, faced a rapid fire of questions from champions on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee.
These Senators wasted no time grilling Pruitt on everything from his alarming conflict of interest with the oil industry to his pending lawsuits against the very agency that he has been tapped to lead.
Guided by Corporate Interests
Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member on the committee, started off the hearings by highlighting Pruitt’s poor record on the environment and general disdain for the EPA.
Just a few days earlier, Carper led Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and public health officials and advocates in emphasizing the importance of a strong EPA that uses science to guide environmental policy and climate action. The senators and speakers explained why the EPA must continue to be guided by science to protect the health of our families.
Pruitt, unfortunately, fails the basic test of basing decisions on sound science and seems to be guided by corporate interests instead. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) called him out on this, presenting the committee with a blown-up image of the letter that Pruitt copied, nearly word-for-word, from oil lobbyists. Merkley later shared the image on twitter.
#Pruitt caught red handed copying & pasting lobbyists words & putting them on official letterhead as OK AG. Shouldn't that concern everyone? pic.twitter.com/F4QYQ5oERX
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) January 18, 2017
This is far from an isolated incident—the EPA nominee has used his position as attorney general to file more than a dozen lawsuits against the agency. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Pruitt to name at least one instance where he wrote a letter advocating for the people of this country, saying, “Did you file even one lawsuit on behalf of [kids with asthma] to reduce the air pollution in your state and help them to have a healthy life?”
Polluters over Public Health
Public health was at the center of the nominations, with several more Senate Democrats noting that an EPA administrator must be committed to protecting the health and safety of people in this country.
Senator Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) demanded that Pruitt make clean air a top priority, calling on him “to care about human health and really believe that the cost — when human health is at risk, when people are dying — is far higher than the cost to that polluter to clean up the air. I need you to feel it, as if your children sitting behind you are the ones in the emergency room.”
At one point during the hearing, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) asked the nominee if the presence of lead in drinking water was safe, and Pruitt said he had not looked at the “scientific research.”
Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) did not let Pruitt off the hook. She focused on this unclear response, calling out Pruitt’s “serious oversight,” questioning why he had not done any research on lead in water in the wake of the crisis in Flint, Michigan and similar concerns in communities across Illinois.
A Mouthpiece for Polluters
Several senators fired questions about Pruitt’s conflict of interest with the fossil fuel industry, arguing that he should not be allowed to lead an agency that he sued as recently as last year.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) pointed out the hypocrisy of the nominee both suing and possibly leading the EPA and insisted that Pruitt recuse himself from the lawsuits he filed against the EPA.
Later, Senator Whitehouse presented a chart detailing the many fossil fuel companies that have contributed to Pruitt’s campaigns and political organizations, noting that the nominee took money from Big Polluters and pushed their anti-climate and anti-environmental agenda.
Pruitt’s serious conflicts of interest are concerning. EPW committee Democrats have adamantly expressed that we cannot allow someone with such deep ties to the fossil-fuel industry to lead the EPA. The bottom line: the head of the EPA should not be backing corporations over the health and safety of the American people.