Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Nomination Hearing for Scott Pruitt, EPA (Jan. 18)

 First, an update on possible nomination votes:

 --Friday, Inauguration Day, the Senate will be in session for afternoon votes; they are expected to vote on—and approve—at least two nominees, Gen. Mattis at DOD, and Gen. Kelly for DHS. New minority leader Chuck Schumer has agreed to this arrangement.

--There could be more votes, but only on non-controversial nominees.

--This could include Rick Perry at DOE and Ryan Zinke for Interior, both under the jurisdiction of the Energy Committee.

--After today’s Perry hearing Chair Murkowski made a move to “hotline” these votes, meaning to dispense with committee action and go straight to the floor. This could only happen if all committee members agree to such a move.

--Eight years ago new President Obama had 7 nominees approved on Day One; this won’t be the case tomorrow but most cabinet-level votes should occur before Feb. 1, including Scott Pruitt for EPA.

 Now, yesterday’s hearing on Pruitt for EPA:

 It was contentious, partisan, snarky, and long. It wasn’t pleasant, for anyone. You knew it was going to be a long day when ranking Democrat Tom Carper of DE, in his opening statement, made clear that he thought the nominee was someone who is “so disdainful of the agency.” This was a surprise, since Carper is such a gentleman, such a civil guy. But it was his first hearing as ranking member, and he was coming out swinging. Which also meant it was the first hearing for the new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. John Barrasso of WY. Interesting first day.

 Everyone knows Scott Pruitt, especially in the EPA world. He’s the current AG of OK, and this was mentioned many times—that he would no longer just be the AG of OK, he’d be the EPA administrator for the whole country. And everyone knows he is or has been a party to 14 major lawsuits against EPA; this too was frequently mentioned. As was a Democratic effort to get Pruitt to understand why he should recuse himself in his future duties at EPA on these same issues. Pruitt wasn’t buying it.

 The hearing mostly focused on Pruitt’s view of the world versus the EPW Democratic view. Major themes included: ethics charges; potential conflicts of interest; recusal; states’ rights; and climate change. Pruitt emphasized his view of environmental regulation: “cooperative federalism,” where states cooperate with other states, and states cooperate with the feds (EPA), and state regulators cooperate with the public. This helps explain his view of a “proper role for EPA,” said Pruitt, instead of EPA having “a heavy hand.” Early on, Pruitt discussed climate: climate change is happening, he said, and human activity is partially responsible, but this is open to debate.

 Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a zealot on climate change, started off with a bang: he put up a chart listing major energy industry contributors to Pruitt and his political action committee, called Liberty 2.0. The chart included Koch Industries, Devon Energy, Continental, Southern Company, EEI, Murray Energy, and ExxonMobil. He also mentioned Pruitt’s Rule of Law Defense Fund, which he called dark money and accused Pruitt of not disclosing on his nomination forms. Later, to Pruitt’s defense, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) admitted he, too, gets political contributions from Southern, and pointed out that Hillary Clinton received more contributions from the oil and gas industry than did Donald Trump.

 Another Democrat, Sen. Cory Booker of NJ, hammered Pruitt on his 14 lawsuits—Clean Power Plan, MATS, NAAQS, CSAPR, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule—and accused the nominee of joining “polluters” on all these cases. How many kids in OK have asthma, he queried? Either Pruitt didn’t know or he didn’t have time to answer. Booker answered: 110,000. Do you know OK has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country, Booker asked. Have you ever filed a lawsuit on behalf of one of those kids, the senator wondered. You have to have standing, the AG answered.

 And so it went. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) didn’t let up. He mentioned recent NASA and NOAA climate studies, and asked Pruitt if he was familiar with the President-elect calling climate change a “Chinese hoax.” Do you believe that, Markey asked? No, I don’t believe that, Pruitt said. “The President will be interested to hear that,” said Markey. More Markey, who asked about the famous SCOTUS case, Massachusetts v. EPA and the “endangerment finding.” Will you support it, or will you attempt to change it? It’s the law of the land, said Pruitt. And new Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), an attorney general herself just weeks ago, came prepared, asking the nominee again and again if he ever used his “independent authority” to file any environmental lawsuits, instead of joining with “polluters” in their cases.

 Sen. Whitehouse came back with more, this time private meetings with Southern Company and Murray Energy. He mentioned outstanding FOIA requests that have been held up in OK for two years, and something about 3,000 emails requested. There’s clearly a “potential conflict of interest” here, the senator said, and you’ll be in a new job dealing with “industry with interests before the EPA.” Pruitt was firm, and repeated often: he will “follow the EPA’s ethics rulings” on key issues.

 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) got some attention from several Republican members, including Sen. Deb Fischer of NE and Joni Ernst of IA, as did the Clean Power Plan. Fischer started in fact with the CPP: Nebraskans, she said, have “been really affected by the EPA in many instances,” and she gave some examples, starting with: “Nebraska’s public power utilities are grappling with how they could ever comply with the EPA’s carbon emission reduction mandates.”

 Chairman Barrasso was more than fair in handling the hearing—he had previously announced a one day hearing but all members would be able to ask their questions. But the hour was getting late and members were antsy. Suddenly the chairman announced the end of the session—three rounds are enough, he said. This surprised the minority, and they squabbled for a while, finally gaining some additional time. Former chairman James Inhofe wasn’t pleased—he even called for a vote—he was ready!—but that’s not his job anymore. Barrasso announced a committee vote would occur soon. Will he get through? Yes; not a single GOP member has announced opposition, and Democratic Sen. Manchin of WV has already said he'll vote for him.