EPA critic Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt faces Senate panel in bid to lead agency

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Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator, his former campaign manager told reporters December 7th, 2016. Credit: Scott Pruitt

WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the man President-elect Donald Trump wants to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, will ask a select group of senators Wednesday to allow him to lead an agency he has spent much of his career trying to dismantle.

Pruitt, a man who has long looked at the EPA skeptically, is a lightning rod of a pick.

Environmental activists call Pruitt dangerous and Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will look to put his views of science and climate change on trial.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the committee, has labeled the Oklahoma Republican “Polluting Pruitt” since his nomination was announced and argued that an EPA head that does not “recognize the damaging effects of climate change on our environment and economy” is not qualified for the job.

Many Senate Republicans, however, see Pruitt as the right person to lead what they view as a wasteful agency that over-regulates, especially because Oklahoma, his home state, is the biggest oil and natural gas-producing state in the nation.

In his testimony, Pruitt is expected to emphasize limits he believes the law and states can place on the EPA.

“The agency must be committed to using its expertise in environmental issues not to end run Congress. … The purpose of regulation is to make things regular, to put the public on clear notice of its obligations, and to do so fairly, without picking winners and losers,” Pruitt will say, according to a prepared draft of his testimony.

“If confirmed, I will utilize the relationships I have forged with my counterparts in the States to ensure that EPA returns to its proper role, rather than using a heavy hand to coerce the States into effectuating EPA policies,” he will say.

Views on climate change

It is likely that Pruitt, despite views that are abhorrent to many Democrats, will be confirmed as the next head of the EPA. But Democrats want to make him pay for it and plan to push the Republican on some of his past comments about climate and his ties to energy companies.

Pruitt wrote last year that climate change scientists “continue to disagree” about whether climate change is real, despite the fact that 97 percent or more of climate scientists believe climate change is real and linked to human activity.

And lawyers with the Environmental Defense Fund tell CNN that Pruitt filed at least 12 lawsuits challenging environmental protections as attorney general. Pruitt, in particular, sued over the EPA’s clean power plan, which seeks to curb carbon emissions from power plants and attempts to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

His positions, however, are in line with what Trump said about the environment on the campaign trail. Trump promised to “cancel” the Paris climate deal brokered by the Obama administration last year and end all “all wasteful climate change spending from Obama-Clinton, including all global warming payments to the United Nations.”

Also likely to come up on Wednesday: The fact that Pruitt has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry for a smattering of campaigns in Oklahoma. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Pruitt has received over $300,000 from interests close to the fossil fuel industry since 2002.

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