Pruitt Downplays Fossil-Fuel Ties, Echoes Other Nominees on Climate

Whithouse said funding is the next step in addressing opioids. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt defended his lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury pollution standards, downplayed ties to fossil-fuel companies and echoed other Trump nominees on climate change during a hearing on his nomination to lead the EPA.

Pruitt expressed a similar stance on climate change to secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson and Interior secretary pick Ryan Zinke during his hearing with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, saying the climate is changing but “the extent of human impact is still being debated.”

Tillerson and Zinke also clarified they don’t think climate change is a “hoax,” as President-elect Donald Trump has tweeted, though they downplayed humans’ impact. There is widespread agreement among scientists that humans have a significant effect.

Pruitt also clarified that when he sued over the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule, an effort to limit pollution from coal-fired power plants, he took issue with the EPA’s cost-benefit analysis, rather than arguing that mercury is not dangerous to humans. Mercury “should be regulated” under the Clean Air Act, he said, when pressed by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) all gave Pruitt additional time to speak after heated exchanges with Carper and other Democrats.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) criticized Pruitt for sending a letter to the EPA opposing regulations on natural gas wells without disclosing that he had largely copied the text from a letter written by lawyers for Devon Energy, according to the New York Times. Pruitt said he was representing the interests of a “very important industry to our state,” saying it was for the good of the entire industry, rather than one company. Merkley said Pruitt had used his office “as a direct extension of an oil company.”

Pruitt said he “attended fundraising events as an attorney general” with fossil-fuel interests, when asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). But he said he did not ask Koch Industries, Murray Energy, or ExxonMobil Corp. for money for the Republican Attorneys General Association.

Whitehouse also pressed Pruitt on why he didn’t disclose any money raised for the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a conservative policy group for attorneys general, of which Pruitt was chairman. Whitehouse called the group “a complete black hole into which at least a million dollars goes.”

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