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Senate Democrats gear up to fight Trump’s ‘dangerous’ EPA nominee

Scott Pruitt is a climate denier and friend of the fossil fuel industry.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Moments after news broke that President-elect Donald Trump would be appointing Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt — a close friend of the fossil fuel industry and noted climate denier — as EPA administrator, Democratic legislators in Congress began voicing their ardent disapproval.

“At a time when climate change is the great environmental threat to the entire planet, it is sad and dangerous that Mr. Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-VT), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee that will hold hearings on Pruitt’s confirmation, said in a statement. “Mr. Pruitt’s record is not only that of being a climate change denier, but also someone who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to make this country more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels. The American people must demand leaders who are willing to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. I will vigorously oppose this nomination.”

Other staunch supporters of climate action on the Environment and Public Works committee issued similarly strongly-worded statements in opposition to Pruitt’s nomination. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), said that “denying the science of climate change and carrying water for Big Oil and the fossil fuel industry make [Pruitt] unsuitable to lead the EPA,” adding that, like Sanders, he would “vigorously oppose Scott Pruitt’s nomination.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) called Pruitt “a dangerous and unacceptable choice to lead the agency tasked with leading our climate efforts and protecting clean air and clean water for all Americans,” noting Pruitt’s history of climate denial and his penchant for suing the federal government to block environmental regulations like limits on mercury, arsenic, and carbon pollution. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) also hit Pruitt for his climate denial, and added that “Scott Pruitt has chosen his fossil fuel donors over the health and well-being of the people he serves” at every turn.

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“I expect the American people will be shocked that President-elect Trump has chosen someone with such disdain for their health as they learn more about Pruitt during his confirmation hearings,” Whitehouse said, previewing what is likely to be a rancorous confirmation process split cleanly among party lines.

Other Senate Democrats took less outwardly combative positions, pledging to press Pruitt hard during confirmation hearings on his climate denial and deep ties to the fossil fuel industry.

“I believe strongly in the cabinet confirmation process — including giving every nominee a fair and timely hearing. To that end, as a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I will listen to what Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has to say about his vision for the EPA,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), said in a statement. “However I am concerned about this nomination. Mr. Pruitt has made a name for himself out of denying the very existence of climate change. Now President-elect Trump has selected him to lead the agency charged with addressing it. Mr. Pruitt has made a career out of suing the EPA. Now he wants to run the agency.”

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans cheered Pruitt’s nomination, casting him as a fresh leader who would work to reign in EPA overreach — including rules like the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit carbon pollution from power plants in an effort to curb manmade climate change.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) tweeted his support for Pruitt on Wednesday evening.

And Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) cheered Pruitt’s nomination in a statement, calling him “exactly the type of person we need to lead the EPA during this critical time.”

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“He has been a driving force behind the legal battle against President Obama’s environmental policies and far-reaching regulations,” Capito added. “I look forward to working with him to reverse policies that threaten affordable, reliable energy and jobs.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee and perhaps the most famous climate denier in the U.S. Senate, also praised Pruitt’s nomination.

“Pruitt has fought back against unconstitutional and overzealous environmental regulations like Waters of the U.S. and the Clean Power Plan; he has proven that being a good steward of the environment does not mean burdening tax payers and businesses with red tape,” Inhofe said. “I am pleased with President-elect Trump’s selection and I look forward to working with my fellow Oklahoman in his new capacity.”

Given Pruitt’s record of working hand-in-hand with the fossil fuel industry to fight environmental regulations — a 2014 New York Times investigation revealed that he once sent a letter to the EPA challenging federal regulations that had been written by one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies — his confirmation process seems sure to draw stiff opposition from Democratic legislators. It’s likely to be a partisan mirror of current EPA administrator Gina McCarthy’s confirmation process, which took a record 136 days and included more than 1,100 questions from the Environment and Public Works Committee (1,075 of which came from Republicans).

In the end, six Republican Senators voted to confirm McCarthy — and Democrats aiming to stop Pruitt’s nomination will again look to these more moderate legislators to help derail Pruitt’s chances of leading the EPA.

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Speaking on a press call convened by the League of Conservation voters, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) called Pruitt’s nomination a “litmus test” for every Senator that has claimed to believe in climate science.

“This is a four alarm fire. We are going to do everything we can to stop his nomination and we are going to need broad-based bipartisan support for that,” Schatz said.

Whitehouse — who has given more than 150 speeches on the floor of the Senate about climate change — agreed with Schatz, and seemed optimistic that a handful of Republican Senators could be convinced to stand in opposition to a climate denier as head of the EPA.

“We have a lot of Republican Senators who have supported climate change bills in the past, who have voted on Brian [Schatz’s] and my climate amendments, and who need to be put on the spot about this one,” Whitehouse said. “It’s a true opportunity to move this issue forward and we should take full advantage.”