EPW Democrats: Irresponsible to Force Through an Extreme Nominee without Essential Information

In unprecedented move, Republicans suspend long-standing rules to rush controversial EPA nominee through committee without answers to critical questions

WASHINGTON – Today, Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), decried Chairman Barrasso’s decision to suspend committee rules and rush through the controversial nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) without receiving essential information about his record. In the spirit of openness and transparency, Democratic senators requested that Mr. Pruitt provide committee members with the relevant documents they had repeatedly requested and substantive answers on fundamental policy matters on which he had refused to be straightforward. Yesterday, EPW Democrats declined to attend a committee vote on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination until he fully responds to reasonable requests for information.

 “This Groundhog Day, EPW Democrats are living the Bill Murray movie. As far as I’m aware, we still have not received the relevant documents and the substantive answers we’ve requested from Mr. Pruitt. So it seems that the only thing that has changed is that it’s Thursday instead of Wednesday,” said Ranking Member Carper. “We have made our requests perfectly clear, and I believe they are entirely reasonable – so reasonable, in fact, that my Republican colleagues made the same requests of our last nominee to lead the EPA, who actually worked to address their requests. I am disappointed that our majority has decided to ignore our concerns and those of the American people, and suspend the Committee’s rules in an effort to expedite Mr. Pruitt’s nomination, but we have to stand our ground in our pursuit of the truth and in fulfillment of our Constitutional duty with respect to nominations.  We cannot advise the full Senate on whether Scott Pruitt will lead the EPA in a manner that will protect the public’s health in the absence of critical information about his record.  And we cannot consent to move his nomination forward until the Committee does its job and gets those answers.”

 “We have important questions that need answers. This should not be an issue, as there has been a bipartisan precedent in the EPW committee that the minority party – Democratic or Republican – is given extra time to ensure complete responses from nominees,” said Senator Cardin (D-Md.). “I am concerned that we do not know which Scott Pruitt wants to become the EPA Administrator – the one who testified before the EPW Committee committing to support multi-state solutions to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, or the one reversed course in his responses to written questions, falling back into his position as a lawyer who sued the EPA over and over again to stop such cooperation happening thousands of miles away from his own state of Oklahoma.”

“Enough stonewalling.  Scott Pruitt needs to come clean with this Committee and the American people about conflicts with the fossil fuel industry that he would regulate if confirmed,” said Senator Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “He’s dodged our questions, ignored our letters, and told us go to the back of the line and make open records requests to get the information we are entitled to.  There are at least 3,000 emails his office admits exist.  Who knows how many other communications there are between his web of political committees, dark money groups, and fossil fuel companies.  We need that information now,” said Senator Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “The Republican double-standard about transparency and accountability is now on full display.  Before we move forward, we need to know: what is Scott Pruitt hiding?”

“There is no more important question than whether a nominee will work for the public good or for powerful private interests,” said Senator Merkley (D-Ore.). “Pruitt’s extensive ties and dealings with private industry in Oklahoma raise huge questions that go to the very heart of his fitness for this position. It’s unacceptable and sets a dangerous precedent for the committee to allow him to stonewall on these important questions. We will not be complicit in a process that rams through a nominee before he has answered key questions that address whether he will work for the people or for the powerful.”

“Before we vote on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination, he needs to be transparent about his ties to the industries he would be charged with regulating,” said Senator Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).He still has not answered this committee’s questions, and we should not proceed with a vote until he has given us the information Senators have requested.”

“The Senate cannot fulfill its responsibility to advise and consent if nominees won’t cooperate. Scott Pruitt is stonewalling on answers to basic questions about possible conflicts of interest and he has refused to provide important emails and other documents. It’s unacceptable to advance Mr. Pruitt through this committee without a clear and complete picture of his record and his relationships with polluting companies,” said Senator Booker (D-N.J.).

“Attorney General Scott Pruitt has a responsibility to respond to requests on matters related to his nomination to lead the EPA. For more than a month, Mr. Pruitt has not fully responded to inquiries, questions for the record, or requests for information on his record and views on clean air, clean water, and climate change and other matters that are fundamental to his qualifications for the job of running the EPA,” said Senator Markey (D-Mass.) “We cannot fully judge Mr. Pruitt’s positions nor assess potential conflicts of interests that would impact his service at the EPA without responses to our questions for the record.”

“It’s shameful that Republicans are disregarding the need for transparency,” said Senator Harris (D-Calif.). “Attorney General Pruitt has left critical questions important to Californians left unanswered, and they deserve to know where he stands on the issues and what other conflicts of interest he may have failed to disclose. As I’ve said, we have a right and responsibility to examine his background to ensure he can faithfully fulfill his oath if he is confirmed.”                                            

“Given his record of opposing American-made renewable energy like the Renewable Fuel Standard, Attorney General Pruitt had a lot to answer for at his confirmation hearing,” said Senator Duckworth (D-Ill.). “Instead, he provided evasive, hollow answers that were designed to sound good but meant little. Achieving American energy independence and security requires an EPA Administrator who will defend, not destroy, our nation’s RFS program. The American people deserve honest, transparent EPA leadership. AG Pruitt falls short of this standard, from refusing to comply with long-standing open records requests, to misrepresenting his environmental justice record as the Oklahoma AG.”

On Monday, Senator Carper sent a letter to Chairman Barrasso, urging him to hold Mr. Pruitt accountable and asking for a postponement of the business meeting scheduled for Wednesday, February 1, until Mr. Pruitt responded to specific requests from Committee Democrats. Without a postponement of the meeting or more information from Mr. Pruitt, Democrats declined to attend the business meeting held yesterday and prevented a vote on Mr. Pruitt. The business meeting was rescheduled for today, 24-hours later, without consultation with Committee Democrats any without any more information from Mr. Pruitt.

The request to postpone Mr. Pruitt’s consideration until specific information was provided mirrored that of EPW Republicans back in 2013 when considering Gina McCarthy’s nomination. Then, Committee Republicans, including Senators Barrasso, Inhofe, Sessions, Wicker, Boozman and Fisher, expressed in a letter to then-Chairman Boxer that ‘EPW precedent illustrates that without answers to questions and information requests, it is not appropriate to move forward with the nominee.’ McCarthy ultimately provided additional information to the members before the committee voted on her nomination.

Last month, Mr. Pruitt sent woefully inadequate answers to Committee Democrats’ questions for the record following his Confirmation hearing. Mr. Pruitt refused to provide substantive answers on fundamental policy questions, failing to name one EPA regulation on the books today that he supports and unable to demonstrate basic scientific knowledge regarding the dangers of toxic pollutants like lead and mercury. Additionally, Mr. Pruitt told Committee Democrats 19 separate times to get the information they were requesting from Mr. Pruitt’s own office, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, which has more than a two-year backlog for such requests. Prior to the Committee’s hearing, Mr. Pruitt refused to respond to questions sent by Ranking Member Carper on a broad range of issues relating to the basic mission of the Environmental Protection Agency.