Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, was adamant in his opposition to the greenhouse gas-cutting Clean Power Plan in written answers to questions from Congress.
In his written answer, Pruitt went further than oral testimony to clarify his continued opposition to the plan, which he is suing as attorney general. He also implied that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with him on the Clean Power Plan because it issued a stay on the rule.
In fact, the court has not yet taken up the case and a stay is not a statement of the court’s intent on how it would rule.
“I, along with the Supreme Court, which issued a stay against the Clean Power Plan in February 2016, believe the EPA exceeded the bounds of authority established by Congress in the Clean Air Act,” Pruitt wrote to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. His answers to committee questions were published Wednesday night.
But on most other topics, Pruitt was evasive, frequently saying he was unfamiliar with particular laws or pieces of scientific research, particularly those tied to climate change. His answers frequently stood in contrast to the EPA’s positions on its website.
On 15 occasions, Pruitt wrote either, “I have no knowledge,” “I have no personal knowledge,” or “I have no first-hand knowledge,” in response to a question.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, asked Pruitt if he could name any EPA regulations currently on the books that he supports.
“I have not conducted a comprehensive review of existing EPA regulations,” Pruitt responded. “As Attorney General, I have brought legal challenges involving EPA regulations out of concern that EPA has exceeded its statutory authority based on the record and law in that matter.”
Carper called Pruitt’s responses “shockingly devoid of substance” in a statement released late Wednesday. Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wy.) said in a statement he believed Pruitt “thoughtfully responded to each and provided further evidence as to why he should be confirmed for administrator of the EPA.”
When asked by senators about his plans for the agency, Pruitt frequently said only that he plans to follow the law. Pruitt was asked 1,078 questions for the record, and used the phrase “faithfully execute” 41 times in his answers.
Some Democratic senators questioned whether Pruitt could truly follow through on the EPA’s mission when he has frequently criticized the agency and is involved in nine lawsuits against it. Pruitt responded that his efforts to keep the agency in check are not in conflict with a belief in its mission.
“Regulations that are not on solid legal foundation and that cannot survive judicial review will not result in environmental protections,” Pruitt wrote in four instances.
In response to questions on climate change, Pruitt stuck to the same position taken by other Cabinet nominees, acknowledging that the climate is changing at least in part because of human activity, but questioning scientists’ “ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact.”
When asked about specific consequences of climate change, Pruitt was more elusive, often arguing that the science was ambiguous.
For example, on ocean acidity, Pruitt wrote that “the degree of alkalinity in the ocean is highly variable and therefore it is difficult to attribute that variability to any single cause.” The EPA website currently says specifically that the ocean has absorbed more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, “leading to an increase in acidity.”
He was similarly elusive on the causes of algal blooms, an overgrowth of algae in the water that can produce dangerous toxins, and which the EPA believes could have multiple links to climate change.
When asked how much more information he would need about scientists’ ability to predict the effects of increased greenhouse gases in order to “consider it adequate,” Pruitt responded, “If confirmed, I will work to ensure that any regulatory actions are based on the most up-to-date and objective scientific data, including the ever-evolving understanding of the impact increasing greenhouse gases have on our changing climate.”