Statement On The Nomination Of Scott Pruitt To Be Administrator Of The Environmental Protection Agency

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
On The Nomination Of Scott Pruitt
To Be Administrator Of The Environmental Protection Agency

February 17, 2017

Mr. President, today I must vote to oppose the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as the President’s nominee for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While I believe that the President enjoys some privilege of selecting administration officials, the views that Mr. Pruitt and I hold on a wide range of key environmental issues are completely irreconcilable. I was deeply disturbed by Mr. Pruitt’s lack of specificity and his evasiveness during his hearing and in response to written questions.

While no one would expect Mr. Pruitt to detail the new Trump administration’s policies on these complex issues, we do expect the nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency to share with us his own views on important matters, including whether there are any EPA regulations he supports, or whether he would fully recuse himself from making decisions in all legal cases in which he was an original party. But no. Instead, he testified that he had not conducted a comprehensive review of existing EPA regulations. With respect to recusals, he asserts that he would simply follow the recommendations of the EPA’s ethics office. That is not good enough.

I am deeply disturbed by Mr. Pruitt’s evasive responses. This does not bode well for his future interactions with Congress where he will certainly be required to appear before Committees and provide testimony, briefing materials, and other information in a timely manner. Under oath before the Environment and Public Works Committee, he told the Committee members, U.S. Senators, to go to the back of the line, to make records requests to his home state if they wanted information. This is information that Mr. Pruitt could, and should, have provided to the Committee. As a result, information needed by the Senate to judge his fitness for this position has yet to be revealed.

Committee members were told 19 separate times to get the information they were requesting from his own office, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, an office that has more than a two-year backlog for such requests. That is not the spirit of openness and transparency we expect and must demand from witnesses, let alone from nominees who come before the U.S. Senate. How can the Senate adequately fulfill its responsibility of advice and consent if nominees will not cooperate? Mr. Pruitt has stonewalled the Committee and the entire Senate on answers to basic questions about possible conflicts of interest. He has refused to provide relevant emails and other documents. This is unacceptable. It is also unacceptable to advance and approve this nominee without a clear and complete view of his record and his close relationships with the very companies he will be tasked with regulating.

With respect to the agency that he has been nominated to lead, it is imperative that we not reverse or halt the tremendous progress that has been made in achieving strong, scientifically based environmental protection goals. The EPA itself was born out of an environmental crisis in this country, in the wake of elevated awareness of and concern about pollution. This came after our nation watched in horror as the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, burst into flames again as it was so saturated with sewage and industrial waste that it oozed rather than flowed. That pollution was a byproduct of unchecked pollution from industrial wastes.

Over its 46 years, the EPA has made enormous progress and become one of the world’s most successful protectors of public health and the environment. Americans now expect clean air and clean water, where before the EPA was created, we expected nothing more than burning rivers and polluted air. While cleaning up the environment we have also grown jobs and strengthened our economy. However, we continue to face an environmental crisis of our own making with climate change, and EPA’s mission to protect public health and the environment reminds us that the tasks of this agency are essential to every single American. Americans care about having clean air to breath, safe drinking water, swimmable and fishable rivers and streams. They want their food to be free of pesticides and their workplaces to be healthy and safe. They want their children to have a future that is free of the dangers of climate change.

Sadly Mr. Pruitt refuses to accept the scientific community's overwhelming consensus that unchecked increases in greenhouse gas emissions will have catastrophic effects. The science is crystal clear that the impacts of climate change will increase in frequency and scale. Even the Department of Defense recognizes that climate change will impact the complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities.

Climate change cannot be dismissed as merely a political issue. We need to address the unfettered release of carbon and other greenhouse gases and have a strong resilience strategy to address the plight of future generations and the hazards already plaguing this one. Yet we continue to have political claims thrown about that the EPA’s work to address climate change and limit carbon emissions is to blame for the decline in the coal industry. At their base these are more “alternative facts.” This was confirmed yet again this week as the owners of the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Arizona, voted to close the facility at the end of 2019. It was not EPA regulations or the Clean Power Plan that were cited as the reason for the closure of the coal-fired plant. No, it was the fact that in a market that is saturated by cheap natural gas prices, the plant was no longer economical to operate. Attempts by the President and this nominee to spread alternative facts and to misleadingly promise to prop up an industry, by blaming action on climate change, is not the way to move our country forward and stimulate innovation that will create good, new American jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.

For the benefit of the Senate record on this nomine, I would like to take this opportunity to share some of the messages that I have received from thousands of Vermonters over the past few weeks about this nominee. One Vermonter from Norwich, Vermont, a student studying sustainability and environmental management said she is fearful of Mr. Pruitt’s focus on eliminating and defunding any programs that could help to stop climate change. She went on to describe the importance of peer-reviewed scientific research on climate change and how federal support for our leading academic institutions to complete this research is in our national interest as we monitor the Earth’s vital signs.

I also heard from a constituent from Essex Junction, Vermont, who shared with me how he has seen firsthand at his technology company how the federal promotion of research and development has directly promoted innovation and technological change. This innovation and these technical advances have led to new technologies that have radically changed many aspects of our lives and have transformed our economy, creating jobs, and invigorating our entrepreneurial spirit. He was concerned that Mr. Pruitt would seek to dismantle work that the EPA has done to find better ways to solve environmental problems, from research and technology to regulation, community programs, and external partnerships as they work to find creative ways to achieve results.

I also heard from Vermont farmers like one in Bristol, Vermont, who shared with me how her family farm has experienced the firsthand chaotic effects of climate change and has responded to the call to be more resilient. She voiced her willingness to cooperate with government regulations to protect our air, water, and soil and that we “need the EPA to use science and enforcement to lead the charge.” She went on to say that the head of the EPA should be working to ensure that our air is clean to breathe and our water is safe to drink, not to ensure that polluters get a free pass. I agree wholeheartedly with her.

From rural Hartland, I heard from one Vermonter who said that “the health and wellbeing of Americans must be a priority -- not the wealth of a few corporations and the individuals that benefit from that wealth. America must be a global leader when it comes to addressing climate change if all nations are to take appropriate measures.”

As Vermont’s ski resorts have enjoyed over ample snow in the last week, I have heard from hundreds of snow sport enthusiasts who are deeply worried about Mr. Pruitt leading the EPA. They know that climate change is a threat to our planet and to our economy. In recent years we have seen abnormally high temperatures that severely hurt our ski and tourism industries in Vermont. Many ski areas saw business down 20 percent, and some saw a drop of as much as 40 percent. This does not just affect our ski areas and our mountains, but also our restaurants, our local hotels, contractors, and countless other businesses that are driven by the vitality of our ski industry. For the State of Vermont, the revenue from ski slopes is an important part of our economy and we need an EPA administrator ready to tackle the problems of climate change, not one whose primary goal is supporting business as usual for the worst polluters.

I agree with the thousands of Vermonters who have contacted me concerned about this nominee. I believe that Mr. Pruitt’s nomination sends exactly the wrong signal to the country and to the world as we are combatting the global impacts and causes of climate change. His nomination represents a massive shift away from putting public health and the environment first, and towards ‘Polluters “R” Us’ -- the industries that directly benefit from being given free rein to pollute. His past conduct suggests that he will do everything he can to support those polluters and put their profits ahead of the public good.

The decisions made by the Administrator of the EPA affect the air we breathe, our scenic rivers, our precious resources, the water that our children drink, and the rate at which the United States contributes to the rapidly changing global climate. This appointee’s work will have a long-term global impact and a major impact on all of our children and grandchildren, and on our shared heritage and our natural legacy as Americans.

In my years in the U.S. Senate I have evaluated many nominees and I have supported nominations from both Republican and Democratic Presidents, despite my reservations on some views they held. I have also opposed some nominees because their records were so clearly contrary to the public interest. Rarely have I seen a nominee so totally unqualified and so profoundly a threat to our environment. The views Mr. Pruitt and I hold on protecting Americans’ health and our environment and addressing climate change are far too conflicting to allow me to support his nomination.

The Senate will confirm Mr. Pruitt. Of this there is no question. But then we will begin our duty to provide dogged oversight of his actions at the EPA. Public trust and confidence demand the highest level of accountability to ensure the stewardship of our federal funds, to safeguard the integrity of the EPA, to base decisions on rigorous, fact-based, peer-reviewed science, for the protection of both public health and our environment.

I worry that confirming Mr. Pruitt will turn the Environmental Protection Agency into the “Polluters Protection Agency.” I cannot support his confirmation.

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