Scott Pruitt, the nominee for EPA administrator, told senators at his confirmation hearing Wednesday that he does not deny that climate change is real, breaking with President-elect Donald Trump and his own past statements.
“I do not believe climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt said.
But Pruitt hedged on his view of the role of human activity in creating climate change, saying that it plays “some” role but, because it cannot be measured precisely, that it is still subject to “more debate,” despite the overwhelming view of scientists that it is a major factor.
Pruitt, who appeared before the Senate on the same day two federal agencies said that 2016 was the hottest on record, has emerged as one of the more controversial of Trump’s nominees, drawing protesters as well as harsh questioning and criticism by Democrats.
Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general has joined 14 lawsuits against the agency that he has been chosen to lead, said he will work with industry and states to create a collaborative relationship to replace the EPA’s “heavy-handed” approach.
“Environmental regulations should not occur in an economic vacuum. We can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic growth,” Pruitt said in his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The Republican majority on the committee welcomed Pruitt’s approach and appears poised to approve Pruitt’s appointment. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) told Pruitt that families need relief from the “onslaught of EPA regulations.”
Democrats grilled Pruitt repeatedly about his EPA lawsuits, his ties to the energy and other industries, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions Pruitt received from Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Devon Energy and other oil companies.
Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told Pruitt that by sending a letter as attorney general that was written by Devon Energy to the EPA about its methane gas regulations, “you used your office as a direct extension of an oil company.”
Pruitt responded, “I disagree. I represent the people of Oklahoma.”
Markey pressed Pruitt to recuse himself from any EPA actions regarding the seven lawsuits still in the courts, but Pruitt said he would instead rely on the advice of the EPA counsel on when to step aside.
Pruitt also told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that his personal view on climate change is “immaterial” to how he would administer the EPA.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) tried an emotional appeal.
“I need you 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 and change their processes,” Gillibrand said.
Noting the high levels of asthma from air pollution, she added, “I need you to feel it as if it’s your children sitting behind you. You are the ones in the emergency room.”
Citing certain pollutants where health is the only factor that matters, Pruitt responded, “And senator I would say to you there are certain instances where cost cannot even be considered, as you know.”