WASHINGTON – Moments before the Senate voted to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke on the Senate floor.
Senator Carper continued to urge Republican leaders to postpone consideration of Mr. Pruitt’s nomination in light of a court order issued yesterday mandating the swift release of 3,000 emails and other correspondence between Mr. Pruitt and officials in the oil and gas industry, as well as coal and utility officials, during his time as Attorney General of Oklahoma. Despite these records slated to be released to the public on Tuesday, February 21st –Senate Republicans forced a final vote on Mr. Pruitt earlier today, confirming him by a vote of 52 to 46.
Below are Senator Carper’s closing remarks after Senate Democrats held the floor for 30 consecutive hours in objection to moving forward with Mr. Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency:
“Mr. President, just about 26 hours ago, I stood in this same place and implored my colleagues to do the right thing. I asked them to take a hard look at the man President Trump has chosen to be the foremost defender of our environment, and I reminded them that Thomas Jefferson told us that if the people know the truth, they wouldn’t make a mistake.
“Unfortunately, Mr. President, for months we have sought the truth about Mr. Pruitt and have been prevented from finding it. It hasn’t been for lack of effort. Our concerns about Mr. Pruitt’s record have been specific. We have been clear about the information we need from him. But most of what we’ve received have been evasive, incomplete or even misleading.
“But 26 hours ago, I told my colleagues that a District Court in Oklahoma was preparing to hold a hearing on whether to compel the Office of the Attorney General in Oklahoma to release thousands of documents that he has refused to provide for years. I reminded my colleagues that the release of these documents could be imminent and that we would be wise wait to vote on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination until we had the opportunity to review them. And shame on us if we didn’t. Well, Mr. President, I hate to say I told you so, but today I will make an exception.
“In fact, just hours after I spoke yesterday morning, a judge ordered the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office to release thousands of documents between Mr. Pruitt and the oil and gas industry, the coal industry and the utility industry. The due date is five days from now – Tuesday, February 21st. What’s more, in issuing her order, the judge found that the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office was guilty of an ‘abject failure’ to comply with its legal obligations under the Oklahoma Open Records Act. The judge also noted that the AG’s failure to respond for more than two years to requests for those documents was ‘unreasonable.’
“Mr. President, this is what I’d call a perfect storm. Yesterday’s court order puts every member in this body in jeopardy of shirking our duty to advise and consent on presidential nominees. We are days away from seeing critical information that could bear directly on the answer to the very question we must answer: is Mr. Pruitt suitable to lead the EPA? The court order also shows that Mr. Pruitt has an unacceptably casual approach to meeting obligations as a public servant. Mr. Pruitt’s cavalier attitude while serving as Attorney General in Oklahoma is matched only by his obstruction of our efforts to obtain information about his record during this confirmation process. An unfortunate pattern is emerging, and I am fearful that it will haunt us if Mr. Pruitt is confirmed to lead the EPA.
“In this body, we have a significant obligation to oversee the work and operations of the EPA, but how could we make good on that promise with an administrator who refuses to provide information about his work? After all, I’ve often said people don’t believe what you say, they believe what you do. How can we believe Mr. Pruitt won’t choose to withhold information and obstruct our efforts to ensure transparency?
“We must also recognize that Mr. Pruitt has been nominated by a man who, as a nominee, as a president-elect, and now as president, has made clear his goals to degrade and destroy the EPA. Like many things President Trump says, we ask ourselves, ‘Did he mean it?’ Well, Mr. President, with the nomination of Mr. Pruitt, it’s clear he did. As Attorney General, Mr. Pruitt shut down his office’s environmental protection unit. He went on to raise millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry and other sources to sue the EPA because of its efforts to reduce mercury emissions, methane emissions, cross-border pollution, smog, haze, and ozone just to name a few. Under Attorney General Pruitt’s leadership, children in Oklahoma suffer from asthma at a higher rate than children nationally. Of the 16 counties in Oklahoma for which the American Lung Association has data, they have all received an F grade for smog. Every single one of them. Fish advisories in the state’s lakes have more than doubled.
“But let’s set that aside for a moment. Perhaps Mr. Pruitt’s record says something only about Oklahoma. Let’s suppose he could see his job at EPA through a different lens. We explored this possibility throughout the confirmation process – especially through the EPW Committee’s hearing and subsequent submissions of questions for the record. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Pruitt supports any clean air or clean water federal regulations of if he values or understands the science that is at the core of the agency’s actions to protect public health. And his evasive answers to basic and fundamental questions have not provided any further clarity. In fact, when asked to name any EPA regulation on the books today that he supports, Mr. Pruitt could not name a single one. In the hearing, I asked Mr. Pruitt three times if he thought mercury and air toxic emissions should be regulated from power plants. In the hearing, he responded three times in a vague way that seemed to imply that he supported such action. But his past actions tell a different story. Just two months before his hearing, Mr. Pruitt joined a legal brief with one of the largest coal companies in the country arguing the benefits of cleaning up mercury and air toxic emissions from power plants are "too speculative" and therefore, not necessary.
“Mr. President, we’re coming off of yet another year that ranks the hottest on record. California is experiencing monsoon-like rains this month after years of devastating drought. From New England to Miami, sea levels on our coastlines are rising. There’s a huge crack in the ice in Antarctica. Yet, Mr. Pruitt questions the validity of the science behind climate change.
“Mr. President, throughout my years in the Senate and as member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I have had the opportunity to consider the credentials of five different nominees to serve as EPA Administrator – individuals put forth by both Democratic and Republican Presidents. I have supported candidates of both parties in the past because they were able to clearly demonstrate their commitment to advancing the mission of the EPA – to protect human health and the environment. Never have I been forced to consider a candidate to lead the EPA who appears to have been so focused, throughout his career, on crippling the agency he now seeks to lead or so hostile to the basic protections that keep Americans and our environment safe. This is the first time, in my memory, that an individual has been asked to lead an agency that he has sued over twenty times, with many of those cases still pending in the courts and creating serious conflicts of interest. In fact, Mr. Pruitt – the attorney for the people of Oklahoma – has actually sided against his constituents’ public health nearly every time.
“As a result, we should ask whether he can serve as EPA Administrator for all Americans – not just the ones with powerful corporations with millions of dollars of revenue – but the middle-class mothers and fathers who are working hard every day to raise healthy children. Those mothers and fathers need an EPA that looks out for the health of their families, no matter if they live in Oklahoma or on the Delmarva peninsula. Our responsibility to serve those families demands that we get the information we need about Mr. Pruitt to vote our conscience on his nomination.
“Mr. President, I’ll share just one more story right now. The Sunday before Mr. Pruitt’s nomination hearing, I got up very early and went for a long run through a beautiful state park in northern Delaware. I reached the park at sunrise as the sky was turning a brilliant blue. The winter air was crisp and clear. Wildlife was all around. In a word, it was perfect. As I ran, I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of that moment. Later that morning, my wife and I went to church. There we joined our congregation in singing a hymn that began with these words: ‘For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies. Lord of all to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.’ Those words filled my heart with emotion then, and they do so again as I stand here today.
“Scripture reminds us repeatedly to love our neighbors as ourselves. Also found in those pages is another sacred obligation: that we are to serve as stewards of this planet and the creatures that inhabit it. I believe that we have a moral obligation to do so. A great many of my colleagues in the Senate agree with that obligation. So do most Americans.
“In a recent opinion piece, Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, a national organizer and spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, wrote this about Mr. Pruitt’s nomination:
‘If Scott Pruitt embraces his own self-described pro-life stance, he should fight to protect vulnerable lives from birth to natural death — the lives of children born and unborn, the elderly, and people of color — from environmental pollution. He should work tirelessly to ensure that everyone has clean water and air. He should strengthen, not eviscerate, an agency equipped to honor God’s mandate to steward and care for the creation.’
‘As Oklahoma attorney general, however, he has done the opposite. He had the chance to protect people from pollution and the harms of climate change. Instead, he brought multiple lawsuits against the EPA to overturn measures that would safeguard clean water and air. He had the chance to defend policies that cut the power plant pollution that fuels climate change and pollutes our air. Instead, he cast doubt on climate science and downplayed the moral imperative to safeguard our climate and environment. He had a chance to assist EPA in its mission to protect public health. Instead, he questioned its mission entirely and sought to defend industry from regulation.’
“We all have an obligation to protect the health of our children and families and the world in which they live. For me, this is not only my responsibility as a parent and an official elected to serve the people of Delaware – it is a moral calling.
“Confirming this nominee and thus condoning his too often extreme agenda for this agency and our shared future would be nothing short of irresponsible. Even former Republican EPA Administrator Christie Whitman – with whom I served for seven years as governors of neighboring states – recently said that she can’t ‘…recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.’ It’s hard to imagine a more damning statement from someone who had the job, not that long ago, that Mr. Pruitt now wants. And from what we’ve seen from Mr. Pruitt since this confirmation process began, I fear she is right.
“I urge my colleagues to do the right thing and vote no on his nomination.”