EPW Hearing Statement: Oversight Hearing to Receive Testimony from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held the hearing, “Oversight Hearing to Receive Testimony from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for finally getting this hearing on the calendar. Oversight is a critical part of our committee’s work, regardless of which party is in power, so I am glad that we finally have a chance to hear from Mr. Pruitt today.

“Mr. Pruitt, it has been a while since we’ve seen you. Thank you for postponing your planned trips to Israel and Japan to facilitate your appearance before this committee today for the first time in more than a year. I have a friend who, when asked how he’s doing, usually responds with, ‘Compared to whom?’ I’d note for the record that your immediate predecessor – Gina McCarthy – appeared before this committee six times in two years, while her predecessor – Lisa Jackson – appeared before us 14 times in six years. You can do better on this front, and it’s important that you do.

“Today, we’re not only going to hear from you about how things are going at EPA, but we will also hear from President Trump tonight about the current state of our union. So this seems like an appropriate time to also take a look at the state of our environment. I understand that EPA has been highlighting its first year ‘achievements’ on posters around the agency. In fact, I have a copy of one of those posters here. So let’s take a closer look at what is being celebrated as an achievement.

“First, EPA has moved to repeal the Clean Power Plan, but with no real replacement plan to fulfill the agency’s legal obligations to protect Americans from carbon dioxide pollution, all while rolling back additional clean air protections. Similarly, EPA has moved to repeal the Clean Water Rule, but again, with no new plan to protect the drinking water sources on which 117 million Americans rely.

“You have been touting the agency’s work on contaminated Superfund sites by repeatedly taking credit for cleanups completed under President Obama’s administration, all while proposing to cut the program’s budget by 30 percent. 

“As part of the TSCA reforms that Congress passed in 2016, we gave EPA more authority to ensure that chemicals being sold on the market are safe. That way, families could have confidence in the products that they use every day. But, under your leadership, EPA has not used that authority, so American consumers still don’t have the confidence that they deserve.

“And finally, EPA has moved to either repeal, reconsider or delay at least 25 environmental and public health protections in the last year alone, which certainly does not create certainty for the entities you regulate.

“Those aren’t achievements, Mr. Pruitt. Those are the exact opposite – clear failures to act.

“The state of our environment is also fundamentally linked to the state of our climate. And what did we see in 2017 alone?

  • The second hottest year on record.
  • Multiple Category 5 hurricanes, resulting in more than $200 billion in damages so far.
  • Catastrophic fires in the West, followed by deadly mudslides.
  • Severe droughts that have wreaked havoc on our crops.
  • Rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities and cause frequent flooding.

“From Alaska to Delaware, from Maine to Miami – climate change is clearly affecting every corner of our country.

“Yet, instead of spending time and resources trying to tackle what many of us believe is the greatest environmental challenge of our lifetime, this EPA, under your leadership Mr. Pruitt, is choosing to wage a war on climate science. This EPA has scrubbed its website of nonpartisan climate science data collected over decades. This EPA is replacing science advisors who have worked on climate issues for years with individuals backed by industry. Doing nothing would be bad enough. But the fact that this administration seems to be actively working to discredit and hide the clear science is the height of irresponsibility.

“Now, for the past year, we have heard you give responses to questions that members of other congressional committees and cable news hosts have asked you, but many of the platitudes you so often repeat are not actually answers. So let me just run through some of your recurring responses now so that we can get to actual answers today.

“Mr. Pruitt, you often say that the ‘rule of law matters.’ Well, Congress was very prescriptive when it wrote the Clean Air Act. The law sets timelines that EPA must use to determine whether our country is meeting federal standards for harmful ozone pollution. But your EPA has chosen to continuously ignore and delay that very specific mandate from Congress, which leaves downwind states and vulnerable communities at risk indefinitely.

“Mr. Pruitt, you say over and over again that, ‘process matters.’ Do you really think that verbally directing career staff at EPA to delete the inconvenient economic benefits of the Clean Water Rule is a good rulemaking process, Mr. Pruitt? Do you think that ignoring the advice of EPA scientists helps us clean up our nation’s water?

“You repeatedly insist that you are committed to ‘cooperative federalism’ and that the EPA ‘needs to work together with the states to achieve better outcomes.’ Yet, this administration has sought to zero out funding for critical state programs like those to clean up the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. And your EPA has refused to allow states to work together to address harmful pollutants like ozone.

“You like to tout that the U.S. is ‘actually at pre-1994 levels with respect to our CO2 footprint thanks to innovation and technology.’ But that comment ignores the common sense and bipartisan regulations put in place over the last four decades to get us to those pre-1994 levels. It didn’t happen by accident, Mr. Pruitt. Reducing carbon emissions is the result of smart vehicle emissions standards, clean air regulations and our federal efforts to incentivize investments in clean energy, including natural gas and renewables – most of which your EPA is now trying to weaken or repeal.

“You often remind people that you are a former Attorney General, and you say that you ‘know what it means to prosecute folks.’ But under your leadership, EPA has slowed actions against polluters. And though you have touted EPA’s recent enforcement successes, saying EPA has collected billions of dollars in penalties during your time at the agency, you conveniently forget to mention that more than 90 percent of those penalties are from cases prosecuted entirely by the Obama Administration.

“You say that you are ‘getting the agency back to basics.’ But actions like the one you took just last week to reverse critical protections against hazardous air pollutants show that your EPA is actually moving us backward – all the way back, in fact, to the early 1970s when polluters were able to spew the most dangerous toxins like mercury, lead and arsenic into the air we breathe and the water we drink.

“And perhaps the most egregious response we’ve heard you give repeatedly is when you claim ‘President Obama said we had to choose jobs and growth at the expense of the environment or choose the environment at the expense of jobs…that’s a false choice.’ Mr. Pruitt, I have been saying that choosing between our economy and our environment is a false choice for most of my time as a governor and a U.S. senator because I know, and our country’s history has proven, it to be true. I have easily said that hundreds of times. You know who else famously said the very same thing hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times? President Barack Obama.

“Time and time again, he told us ‘There will always be people in this country who say we’ve got to choose between clean air and clean water and a growing economy, between doing right by our environment and putting people back to work…That is a false choice.’ But he wasn’t just waxing poetic as others do. Under the Obama administration, our country rebounded from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression and went on to add 16 million new jobs, all while implementing landmark environmental protections AND lowering energy costs at the meter and at the pump for consumers.

“I don’t say this lightly Mr. Pruitt, but you are repeatedly misrepresenting the truth regarding President Obama’s record. Sure, we can disagree about policies, but to take the very same words that President Obama used on countless occasions, use them as your own and then claim that President Obama said the exact opposite is, frankly, galling.

“I’ll end with this. Mr. Pruitt, when you were sworn in as EPA Administrator, you took the very same oath of office that every member of this Committee has taken and that some of us have even taken several times. You swore that you would ‘well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which [you were] about to enter.’ Well, one of those duties is to be responsive to this co-equal branch of government, which means showing up here more than once a year to answer our questions. Today, Mr. Pruitt, please spare us the kind of platitudes that you so frequently use. Now that you are finally here, I want real answers. My colleagues want real answers. And the American people deserve real answers.

“I look forward to your answers, Mr. Pruitt. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”