U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt told lawmakers today his long-anticipated exercise to debate climate change science could be launched early next year as Democrats criticized him, saying EPA shows "all the signs of an agency captured by industry."
Appearing before the U.S. House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Pruitt said EPA's work on his "red team, blue team" review of climate science is still ongoing. Nevertheless, he said, the exercise's public debut could come as soon as January.
"That's an ongoing review internally, and it's something we hope to do," Pruitt said at today's hearing. "That would be a process where we would focus on objective, transparent real-time review of questions and answers around the issue of CO2."
Pruitt added, "We may be able to get there as early as January next year."
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) asked Pruitt for his thoughts on EPA's 2009 endangerment finding against carbon dioxide. The administrator has been under pressure from critics of climate science to reverse the finding, which serves as the basis of the agency's climate regulations.
Pruitt criticized the process that produced the finding, saying it was rushed under the Obama administration and took its work from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"The work done in 2009 was accelerated by the agency. In fact, there was something done in 2009 that in my estimation has never been done since and has not been before that event," Pruitt said. "There was a breach of process that occurred in 2009."
Under Pruitt, EPA has begun to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era regulation to curb power plants' carbon emissions. Pruitt told the subcommittee EPA would introduce a replacement rule.
Lawmakers have pushed repeatedly for the EPA chief's appearance today. Pruitt last testified before Congress in June, when he appeared before House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees to discuss the agency's budget plan.
But Pruitt's testimony was limited to just an hour this morning so he could rush off to attend a White House meeting with Republican senators on biofuels. He's expected to return to Capitol Hill this afternoon to finish the hearing.
The stories coming from the agency paint a pretty bleak picture. And why all the secrecy? One has to wonder.
New York Rep. Paul Tonko, the subcommittee's top Democrat, elicited groans from the hearing crowd as he made a pun on Pruitt's months long absence before Congress.
"I fully expected you, Mr. Administrator, as a proud Oklahoman, would have been here Sooner," Tonko joked, referring to a nickname for Oklahomans.
Republicans, too, expressed disappointment that Pruitt had to take a break from the hearing.
Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) said the unusual schedule should give members time to ask questions of the EPA boss.
"We have come to an agreement, which we understand is not ideal, but gives members maximum flexibility to personally question the administrator about the agency's mission," Shimkus said.
The chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), said lawmakers wanted to discuss the administrator's plans for EPA, which Pruitt has heralded as a return to the agency's core mission after what he has termed overreach by the prior administration.
"I expect that 'back to basics' is not an abdication of environmental protection, but rather a rededication," Walden said.
Dems take their shots
Democrats, meanwhile, recited a litany of complaints about Pruitt's time at EPA, including not at first releasing his public calendar, traveling on charter jets and building a secure phone booth in his office.
"The stories coming from the agency paint a pretty bleak picture," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), ranking member on the full Energy and Commerce panel. "And why all the secrecy? One has to wonder."
Tonko said it seemed EPA has "all the signs of an agency captured by industry," given Pruitt's moves to roll back several of the agency's regulations. The congressman also took issue with the EPA chief's order to bar scientists receiving agency grants from serving on its advisory committees.
Pruitt argued in favor of the ban, saying some of EPA's outside advisers had received millions in grants from the agency.
"That causes a perception or an appearance of a lack of independence," Pruitt said, noting that the agency told its advisers they could give up their grants to continue to serve on EPA's boards.
Pallone asked several questions of Pruitt regarding Nancy Beck, a top EPA political appointee, formerly of the American Chemistry Council, who has helped craft some of the agency's chemical safety rules this year.
Pruitt told the lawmaker he would provide Beck's ethics documents as well as other records related to her work at EPA.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing's break, Pallone and Tonko criticized the three-hour intermission. Pallone called the setup "pretty outrageous."
Nevertheless, the New Jersey Democrat said having Pruitt appear before the subcommittee in some fashion was a sign of progress, noting the EPA chief has promised to cough up records regarding Beck.
"The fact that he was here and we were able to ask questions, I think we actually got information," Pallone said.
Reporter Niina Heikkinen contributed.
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net