Democratic senators are envisioning a battle with President-elect Donald Trump over his future nominee for U.S. EPA.
Several lawmakers indicated yesterday that they might oppose Trump’s choice for the agency if the nominee questions the existence of climate change, fails to see warming’s threat to minority communities or supports a broad rollback of EPA’s authority over the fossil fuel industry.
“I think this is a monumental global crisis that we have with the Trump administration coming in, overtly calling climate change a hoax and surrounding himself with people who are betraying the larger consensus on climate change,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). “I think we have a substantive real crisis.”
Democrats’ suggestions that they might use the confirmation process to mount a public trial over the agency’s future leader came a day after Trump met with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) and former Texas regulator Kathleen Hartnett White. Both are seen as potential EPA nominees.
Pruitt told a congressional panel in May that the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s signature climate regulation overseen by EPA, is unlawful because it exceeds the authority of the Clean Air Act. He also said the rule is unconstitutional because it strips away states’ rights to “decline implementation” of the climate rule.
Rather than promoting federalism, EPA is “a central planner for every single industry that emits carbon dioxide,” he said.
Pruitt’s prominent role in legally challenging the Clean Power Plan could make him a bigger target for Democrats than other agency heads if he’s nominated, said Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont.
“They gotta be careful. They can’t go after the whole slate of appointees,” Nelson said of Democrats, but he added that he believes EPA “should be a major battle.”
Pruitt is not widely known among Americans or the Republican senators who would be confirming him, Nelson said. Democrats might use that anonymity to their advantage by trying to define him as someone who is extreme on environmental issues, or as a pawn of the fossil fuel industry.
Their goal would be to persuade three moderate Republicans to oppose him. With the Senate likely to be split 52-48 in favor of Republicans in the next Congress, Democrats can’t derail Trump’s nominees without GOP help.
“Democrats could define him in the course of battle,” Nelson said. “If they define him negatively, that could help.”
‘Very dangerous person’
The first test would come in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Trump’s EPA nominee faces a confirmation hearing. If it’s Pruitt, he could be a mystery to its members.
“I don’t know him,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “But it is absolutely essential that we have new leadership from top to bottom in the EPA. Gina McCarthy, while being personally likable and pleasant, has engaged in drastic overreach, which hasn’t done much to improve the environment, but it’s been death on job creation.”
He dismissed any risk of Democratic opposition.
“I think we can get 51 votes to confirm President [Trump’s] choice,” he said.
The committee will be without its liberal leader, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who after years of pressing for climate action is retiring at year’s end.
“If I was voting, I could never vote for someone who doesn’t believe in science,” she said yesterday. “That would be a very dangerous person to pick.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) suggested Democrats are up for a fight.
“On the environment and EPA, we’re going to have battles,” he said yesterday. “We need the public to be outraged and focused on the important role for the Environment Protection Agency to protect their public health. And we’ll continue to remind whoever they nominate, whether that person’s prepared to put the public’s interest first.”
Others took a more measured tone. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said committee Democrats have not begun strategizing about the confirmation process. But he said any nominee should have deep commitments to clean air and water.
“I’m interested in a nominee who shares those views,” he said.
Pruitt focuses on the legality of climate regulations, rather than questioning climate science. He said in testimony to Congress in the spring that he supports wind power, and he credits the boom in natural gas for helping to phase out coal and bring down greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are all for clean power,” Pruitt said. “And no one, no bureaucrat in D.C., no environmentalist in California, has a stronger interest in clean air and clean water in Oklahoma than we do. That is the air that our children breathe and the water that our grandchildren swim in.”
Those principles seem to meet a low bar if Pruitt, or any Trump nominee, is unwilling to use the power of the federal government to stem emissions, environmentalists say.
Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs with the League of Conservation Voters, pointed to Pruitt’s close relationship with Devon Energy Corp., an oil and gas company in Oklahoma that provided the text of a letter that Pruitt sent to the EPA on state letterhead. It criticized the agency for overestimating emissions from natural gas wells in Oklahoma.
“I would be shocked if we didn’t strongly and specifically oppose Pruitt if he were nominated,” Sittenfeld said. “The fact that Trump is even meeting with him is absurd, and to nominate him would really be beyond the pale.”
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.