Senators grill Pruitt on earthquakes, oil ties

WASHINGTON, D.C. - For more than six hours Wednesday, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt fielded questions from federal lawmakers, who will ultimately decide if he's qualified to serve as administrator as the Environmental Protection Agency in the Donald Trump White House.

The questions Pruitt received from the 21-member Committee on Environment and Public Works largely depended on each senator's political affiliation.

Republicans asked about Pruitt's vision for the agency, citing their desire for a more hands-off approach.

"There's a lot of anger, even fear of this agency across many parts of the country," said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska)."And, I believe you are the right person to provide that course correction."

Oklahoma Republicans James Lankford and Jim Inhofe introduced Pruitt.

They praised his activism, particularly in his 14 lawsuits filed against the EPA, all of which "were brought to protect the state from overzealous and activist executive agencies," Inhofe said.

But, Democrats cited some of those still-pending lawsuits as potential conflicts of interest, asking Pruitt repeatedly if he would recuse himself in those legal situations.

Pruitt said he would leave those decisions to the EPA's counsel.

Other Democratic concerns included fears Pruitt served the energy industry over his constituents.

One senator produced a letter written by Devon Energy lawyers Pruitt signed and passed on to the EPA.

And, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) criticized Pruitt's response to Oklahoma's recent outbreak of earthquakes.

"Your state is seeing a record number of earthquakes. You're the attorney general. Obviously, you have stood up and said you have done everything you can to stop future earthquakes as a result of fracking?" Sanders asked.

"I've acknowledged that I'm concerned," Pruitt replied.

"You've acknowledged that you're concerned," Sanders fired back. "Well, if that's the kind of administrator for the EPA you will be, you're not going to get my vote."

The attorney general acknowledged climate change is "not a hoax" though, when pressed further, stayed away from saying how much he felt Americans or humans contributed.

But, Pruitt said he sees his job as simply enforcing regulations approved by Congress.

He repeatedly pushed for more unity between the agency, individual states and industry.

"This paradigm that, if you're pro-energy, you're anti-environment; if you're pro-environment, you're anti-energy is something that's a false narrative," he said. "We can do better than that. In fact, this country has shown for decades that we can grow our economy and be a steward of our air, land and water, and we need to get back to that."

The committee has not yet scheduled a vote on Pruitt's nomination.