This is a special view on the confirmation hearings provided by POPVOX interns from Brown University. We hope you enjoy and learn from their fresh perspective and front-row seat on Capitol Hill.


On Wednesday, January 18th, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a confirmation hearing for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt. If confirmed, Pruitt will serve on President-elect Trump’s Cabinet.

So who is Scott Pruitt?

Scott Pruitt is the Attorney General for Oklahoma, a position he has served in since 2010. He graduated from Georgetown College in Kentucky with degrees in political science and communications, then received his J.D. from the University of Tulsa. Pruitt served on the Oklahoma Senate from 1998 to 2006. During his career as Oklahoma Attorney General, he has advocated for state control of environmental issues.

What does the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator do?

The EPA Administrator is the head of EPA and thus is responsible for enforcing the EPA’s various environmental statutes, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Aside from creating regulations to enforce environmental laws, the EPA studies environmental issues, provides grants to programs and non-profits to protect the environment, and conducts scientific research to make sure that Americans have the accurate information regarding environmental problems.

How do confirmation hearings work?

Senate Committees meet to question the candidate and to judge the suitability of the candidate for the nominated position. After the hearings, the Committee votes on whether or not they will refer the candidate to the Senate floor. If they do, the entire Senate then votes on the nominations. Here's a list of committee jurisdictions. Learn more about the Senate's role in the nomination and confirmation process, and catch up on other selections.

Who is on the Environment and Public Works Committee?

11 Republicans and 10 Democrats serve on the committee, representing various areas across the country. Sen. John Barrasso [R-WY] is the chairman, and Sen. Tom Carper [D-DE] is the Ranking Member. See if your Senator is on the Committee.

What happened in the hearing?

Well, to even get in the hearing first you had to get through the line. And the line for this hearing was very, very long. Code Pink protesters stood next to Miners for Trump. It stretched all the way down the hall of the building and around the corner.

                      

The hearing was partly contentious because President-elect Donald Trump has promised to cut the EPA, calling it a “disgrace.” When Sen. Carper brought up the President-elect’s pledge, Pruitt responded by saying he thinks the “EPA has a very important role” in protecting the environment and curbing carbon emissions. Pruitt also broke with the President-elect by saying that climate change is not a hoax.

The committee leadership played a much larger part in this hearing than in other hearings. Sen. Barrasso, a supporter of Pruitt’s nomination, submitted several articles to the record between senators’ questions. Among others, articles submitted to the record included endorsements from Jeb Bush, the executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, and the American Farm Association. Ranking Member Carper responded a few times with articles as well, referencing this article from The New York Times. picture

Pruitt’s main point was that he wanted to give the states more regulating power. In his opening statement, he introduced new goals and objectives for the EPA. His top priorities are to reject the “false paradigm” that pro-energy means anti-environment, ensure that regulators regulate and do not pick winners or losers, listen to the voice of the American people, and promote federalism (the cooperation of states with the government).

One major topic during the hearing was the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), which defines the bodies of water under the regulation of the Clean Water Act. Several senators, including Sen. Jerry Moran [R, KS], Sen. Mike Rounds [R, SD], and Sen. Dan Sullivan [R, AK], argued that the rule, which gives the U.S. government jurisdiction over “navigable” waters, is too far-reaching and that the EPA is overstepping its power.

A major topic of contention were Pruitt’s 18 cases against the EPA while serving as Oklahoma Attorney General. As Attorney General, it’s Pruitt’s job to represent the interests of the state, which includes a large oil and gas industry. However, Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] and Sen. Cory Booker [D, NJ] pointed out that Pruitt has filed few cases against the industry, noting the high child asthma rate and earthquakes some believe to be a result of gas production as valid reasons to do so.

Sen. Kamala Harris [D, CA] led the charge of several senators who were concerned about conflict of interest due to eight open lawsuits Pruitt still had against the EPA. Sen. Ed Markey [D, MA] stated worries that if Pruitt was nominated, he would essentially be “plaintiff, defendant, judge, and jury” in his own cases. Pruitt could not commit to recusing himself from those cases, but stated that if the Ethics Committee said it was an issue, he would stand down.

The Committee brought up climate change frequently, in the light of a report from NOAA that day that confirmed 2016 as the hottest year in history. Pruitt broke with the President-elect by saying that climate change is not a hoax. He stated that he “believes climate change is happening” and that “man is a cause,” but he “needs more information” before he can conclude that fossil fuel effects are the main cause. He also stated that his personal opinion on the matter is “immaterial.”

Pruitt made clear several times that if confirmed, he would serve to fulfill Congressional intent towards the environment and not be swayed by his own opinions on the matter. Sen. Tammy Duckworth [D, IL] and Sen. Joni Ernst [R, IA], whose states have large ethanol industries, took this opportunity to ask Pruitt about certain properties of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RSF). The RSF requires refineries to blend ethanol and other renewable fuels with oil. Senators Duckworth and Ernst asked Pruitt if he would commit to opposing the movement to change the point of obligation for blending the oils from refineries to independent blenders, a movement the Senators see as against Congressional intent. Pruitt, again, could not commit, but acknowledged that he would look into it.

Ok, so what now?

The Committee can continue to submit questions to Pruitt and demand answers in writing. The Senate will most likely not vote on the nomination until after inauguration. Let your senators know what you think!