In a heated hearing on Wednesday, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was grilled for seven hours as senators drew party lines in the sand over the Environmental Protection Agency hopeful.
Pruitt, who was nominated in December to head the EPA, has been a critic of the very agency he’s been tapped to lead. He took harsh questions from Democrats and garnered praise from Republicans on the Environment and Public Works committee.
“Honestly people are going to think that it's not just the fox guiding the hen house, it's the fox destroying the hen house,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said after asking Pruitt multiple times if he would recuse himself should a pending lawsuit brought by Pruitt come up. Pruitt eventually said he would recuse himself should the EPA ethics counsel, which he will hire, say he should recuse. He has sued the agency more than a dozen times.
“It seems clear to me that obviously the fact pattern is representing polluters is clear. That you've worked very hard on behalf of these industries,” Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) said after bringing up Pruitt’s ties to the Oklahoma oil and gas industry, specifically a letter given to him by Devon Energy in 2011 which he copied on official letterhead and submitted to the EPA.
The most heated exchange came from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who asked Pruitt whether he was concerned about Oklahoma's spike in earthquakes related to waste water injection.
“You've acknowledged that you're concerned,” Sanders said unsatisfied with Pruitt’s answer of acknowledged concern. “Your state's having a record breaking number of earthquakes… if that's the kind of EPA administrator you're going to be, you're not going to get my vote.”
Republicans, however, came to Pruitt's defense, praising his stance against what they call federal intrusion by the EPA. Pruitt has a history of staunch federalist views. When he was elected in 2010, he paired down Oklahoma’s Environmental Protection Unit to replace it with the state’s current Federalism Unit aimed at fighting the EPA and other federal agencies.
“I believe the EPA needs a serious course correction. As [Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA)] talked about, there's a lot of anger, even fear of this agency throughout many parts of this country and I believe you're the right person to provide that course correction,” Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) told Pruitt.
Pruitt is expected to be confirmed by Jan. The EPW Committee is expected to vote Thursday along party lines, 11 Reps, 10 Dems. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 52-48 and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has said he will vote for Pruitt.