Pruitt’s EPA tenure would embrace rule of law, working with states

Rule of law, cooperative federalism, and public participation would be core philosophies of Oklahoma Atty. Gen. E. Scott Pruitt (R) if he becomes US Environmental Protection Agency administrator, he said. He also would consider proposed regulations’ economic as well as environmental regulations, he told the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during his Jan. 18 confirmation hearing.

“We can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic growth,” Pruitt said. “But that can only happen if EPA listens to the views of all interested stakeholders, including the states, so that it can determine how to realize its mission while considering the pragmatic impacts of its decisions on jobs, communities, and most importantly, families.”

Republican committee members responded warmly to his statements. Democrats expressed strong concerns about Pruitt’s becoming an administrator of a federal agency he has sued several times as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Pruitt basically cut-and-pasted most of a letter from Devon Energy Corp. to one he sent out under his office’s letterhead. “Do you actually believe this represents the concerns of the people and not polluters?” Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked.

“There is no authority which lets me bring a case as attorney general on behalf of a company or an individual,” Pruitt replied. “The state has to have standing first.” He also said he would recuse himself as EPA administrator from cases he brought as Oklahoma’s attorney general if the agency’s ethics office directs him to do so.

Referring to the letter that Merkley mentioned, Pruitt said he consulted with other Oklahoma officials before sending it. “We tried to make sure that all Oklahomans’ views were heard on this matter, including those of the oil and gas industry,” he said. “The letter reflected concerns of that industry, which is very important in our state, not a single company.”

‘Wholesale change needed’

Committee chairman John A. Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in his opening statement that 24 state attorneys general wrote him and Ranking Minority Member Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) expressing support for Pruitt. “He understands the need to protect the environment while allowing our economy to grow,” said Barrasso. “In the last 8 years, EPA has been zealous in imposing new, consequential regulations that didn’t strike this balance. Clearly, a wholesale change is needed.”

Pruitt said he would listen to EPA’s career staff, congressional committees, and the American people in guiding the federal environmental regulator. He said that he believes global climate change is occurring and that human activity is responsible, but added that the debate on what to do about this is not finished. This discussion needs to be civil and disciplined, he suggested.

“I believe that the role of a regulator is to make things regular and provide certainty for those who are regulated,” Pruitt said. “I also believe those who violate the rules need to be prosecuted. I’ve done this a number of times. We’re involved in lawsuits with ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and several other oil and gas companies concerning pollution.”

Two committee Republicans from Great Plains states—Deb Fischer (Neb.) and Jodi Ernst (Iowa)—asked him if he would commit himself to following established federal Renewable Fuels Standard quotas to provide certainty for biofuels producers. So did Democrat Tammy Duckworth (Ill.).

Pruitt said he believes the EPA administrator should be judicious in using waivers, but added that it’s important to recognize that markets have changed since the quotas were expanded under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. “It’s not the EPA administrator’s job to do anything but follow the program,” he said.

“Making sure that all voices are heard and all options are addressed is something I would do as EPA administrator,” Pruitt said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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