WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2017 (ENS) – For two days Senate Democrats have boycotted a planned committee vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma.
But today Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee suspended the rules and forced Pruitt’s nomination through the committee by a vote of 11-0 without any Democrats present.
“Attorney General Pruitt is the right person to lead the EPA,” said Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who chairs the committee. “Our committee conducted a very thorough confirmation process, and Mr. Pruitt has stood up to that scrutiny.”
“He is committed to ensuring clean water, land, and air for all Americans while pursuing policies that allow our economy to grow. Our committee shares those goals, and I am glad we have taken action to move his nomination forward,” said Barrasso. “I am confident the full Senate will confirm him soon.”
But Democrats on the committee, led by the committee’s Ranking Member Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, decried Chairman Barrasso’s decision to suspend committee rules and rush through Pruitt’s controversial nomination without receiving essential information about his record.
“In the spirit of openness and transparency,” said Carper, “Democratic senators requested that Pruitt provide committee members with the relevant documents they had repeatedly requested and substantive answers on fundamental policy matters on which he had refused to be straightforward.”
“We have made our requests perfectly clear, and I believe they are entirely reasonable – so reasonable, in fact, that my Republican colleagues made the same requests of our last nominee to lead the EPA, who actually worked to address their requests,” said Carper, referring to the nomination of President Barack Obama’s choice to head the agency, Gina McCarthy, who was eventually confirmed by the Senate on July 18, 2013, after a record 136-day confirmation fight.
The request to postpone Pruitt’s consideration until specific information was provided mirrored that of EPW Republicans in 2013 when considering McCarthy’s nomination.
Then, committee Republicans, including Senators Barrasso, Inhofe, Sessions, Wicker, Boozman and Fisher, expressed in a letter to then-Chairman Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, that “EPW precedent illustrates that without answers to questions and information requests, it is not appropriate to move forward with the nominee.”
McCarthy ultimately provided additional information to the members before the committee voted on her nomination.
“I am disappointed that our majority has decided to ignore our concerns and those of the American people, and suspend the committee’s rules in an effort to expedite Mr. Pruitt’s nomination,” said Carper, “but we have to stand our ground in our pursuit of the truth and in fulfillment of our Constitutional duty with respect to nominations.”
“We cannot advise the full Senate on whether Scott Pruitt will lead the EPA in a manner that will protect the public’s health in the absence of critical information about his record,” Carper said. “And we cannot consent to move his nomination forward until the Committee does its job and gets those answers.”
Last month, Pruitt refused to provide substantive answers on fundamental policy questions, failing to name one EPA regulation on the books today that he supports and unable to demonstrate basic scientific knowledge regarding the dangers of toxic pollutants like lead and mercury.
Pruitt told committee Democrats 19 separate times to get the information they were requesting from Pruitt’s own office, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, which has more than a two-year backlog for such requests.
Before the committee’s hearing, Pruitt refused to respond to questions sent by Ranking Member Carper on a broad range of issues relating to the basic mission of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have important questions that need answers. This should not be an issue, as there has been a bipartisan precedent in the EPW committee that the minority party – Democratic or Republican – is given extra time to ensure complete responses from nominees,” said Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat.
“I am concerned that we do not know which Scott Pruitt wants to become the EPA Administrator – the one who testified before the EPW Committee committing to support multi-state solutions to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, or the one reversed course in his responses to written questions, falling back into his position as a lawyer who sued the EPA over and over again to stop such cooperation happening thousands of miles away from his own state of Oklahoma.”
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times on a variety of issues.
“Enough stonewalling. Scott Pruitt needs to come clean with this Committee and the American people about conflicts with the fossil fuel industry that he would regulate if confirmed,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat. “He’s dodged our questions, ignored our letters, and told us go to the back of the line and make open records requests to get the information we are entitled to.”
“There are at least 3,000 emails his office admits exist,” said Whitehouse. “Who knows how many other communications there are between his web of political committees, dark money groups, and fossil fuel companies. We need that information now,” Whitehouse said.
“The Republican double-standard about transparency and accountability is now on full display,” said Whitehouse. “Before we move forward, we need to know: what is Scott Pruitt hiding?”
“There is no more important question than whether a nominee will work for the public good or for powerful private interests,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat. “Pruitt’s extensive ties and dealings with private industry in Oklahoma raise huge questions that go to the very heart of his fitness for this position. It’s unacceptable and sets a dangerous precedent for the committee to allow him to stonewall on these important questions. We will not be complicit in a process that rams through a nominee before he has answered key questions that address whether he will work for the people or for the powerful.”
While Democrats stayed away from the hearing room, their staff distributed an amendment from ranking member Carper that would add new standards requiring nominees to submit more financial information.
Republicans, meanwhile, took turns describing how unreasonable they felt the Democrats had been in asking more than 1,000 follow-up questions after Pruitt’s hearing January 18.
“Scott Pruitt has answered more questions than any nominee in the last three presidential administrations,” said Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and the EPW Committee’s former chair. “It’s time we move on.”