Posted: 11:48 am Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Scott Pruitt faces flak from Democrats at EPA nomination hearing 

By Jamie Dupree

Democratic Senators repeatedly pressed Oklahoma Attorney Scott Pruitt at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, accusing him of favoring the oil and gas industry over environmental interests, as they argued Pruitt was the wrong choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency under President-Elect Donald Trump.

Pruitt never seemed ruffled by their attacks.

“The EPA has not acted within the framework that Congress has established,” said Pruitt, who defended his legal action against the EPA in recent years.

“The efforts that I took as Attorney General were representing the interests of the state of Oklahoma,” said Pruitt, who was interrupted over and over again by Democrats during their questioning.

“Yes or no,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) multiple times to Pruitt.

“Excuse me, I’m asking the questions,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), as he squashed one answer from Pruitt.

Outside the hearing room, critics tried to rally opposition to Pruitt on social media, using the hashtag “PollutingPruitt.”

Despite some sharp exchanges with Senators, Pruitt was not knocked off stride during his hearing, as his choice has been a rallying point for Democrats trying to block a Trump nominee.

“I believe there are air quality issues and water quality issues that cross state lines, that the jurisdiction of the EPA, it’s involvement in protecting our air quality and improving our nation’s waters, is extremely important,” Pruitt said.

Democrats took issue over and over with Pruitt’s support for various state lawsuits against the EPA, accusing him of leading a Republican charge for dirty air and dirty water.

“Do you know how many kids have asthma in the state of Oklahoma?” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who accused Pruitt of doing nothing for children in his state on pollution.

“I’m an advocate for the state of Oklahoma,” Pruitt said, arguing that he did not wrongly favor big energy companies.

The morning session of Pruitt’s hearing ended on a somewhat divisive note, with questions from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who basically mocked the Oklahoma Attorney General’s assurances that he was worried about certain issues.

“You’re in a state which is seeing a record breaking number of earthquakes,” as Sanders raised questions about how Pruitt dealt with fracking at home.

“Senator, I’ve acknowledged that I am concerned,” Pruitt said, before Sanders cut him off.

“You’ve acknowledged that you are concerned,” Sanders said dismissively.

“If that’s the kind of EPA Administrator that you are going to be, you are not going to get my vote,” Sanders said.

“Why fight so hard on the side of the oil industry, instead of fighting so hard on the side of the health of the people of Oklahoma?” demanded Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), as Democrats made that a main theme of the hearing.

Democrats also repeatedly demanded that Pruitt recuse himself on lawsuits that he has led against the EPA; Pruitt said he would rely on EPA ethics officials to make the call on those matters.

“You brought the case with these other Attorneys General,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who noted that Pruitt would be both the person bringing the suit and the defendant if he is confirmed to the EPA job.

“I’m just telling you, it’s going to end up being a huge conflict of interest,” Markey told Pruitt.

But as the hearing ended, while Democrats could talk about how they hit Pruitt hard, critics of his nomination are short on votes, and his confirmation seems likely in coming weeks.

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