U.S. Senate panel to question Trump’s EPA pick over energy ties

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By Valerie Volcovici | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Jan 18 Oklahoma Attorney General
Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the
Environmental Protection Agency, will face tough questions from
lawmakers on Wednesday about his ties to the energy industry, in
what is expected to be another highly contentious confirmation
hearing for Trump’s Cabinet-in-waiting.

Pruitt, 48, is a climate change skeptic who sued the agency
he intends to run more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s top
prosecutor, a strong signal he will aggressively carry out
Trump’s vows to slash EPA regulation to the core to encourage
more U.S. oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

His nomination to head the agency has set off a public
relations and lobbying battle. His opponents include Senate
Democrats and green groups worried about climate change,
wildlife and pollution. But he has strong support from
conservatives and industry groups that view the EPA as
over-funded and bad for American jobs.

In prepared remarks seen by Reuters before the hearing,
Pruitt said he would seek to ensure environmental rules do not
come at the expense of development. “Environmental regulations
should not occur in an economic vacuum. We can simultaneously
pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic
growth,” he said in the remarks.

Trump has promised to refocus the EPA on its core values of
protecting air and water quality, while scrapping many of
President Barack Obama’s initiatives to combat global climate
change by targeting carbon dioxide emissions.

INDUSTRY TIES

For weeks, environmental groups have been campaigning to
urge lawmakers to block Pruitt’s nomination, arguing that he is
doing the bidding of energy companies and industry groups that
have contributed to his past election campaigns.

The Environmental Defense Fund’s Action Fund, which says it
has never opposed a nominated EPA chief, set up a website with
links to research it says shows a correlation between his
campaign contributions and his litigation.

Green activist billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate
advocacy group has also launched anti-Pruitt television ads in a
dozen states, and the Natural Resources Defense Council said on
Tuesday that Pruitt “is the worst nominee ever tapped to lead
the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.”

Earlier this month, six Democratic senators on the Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee that will conduct
Wednesday’s hearing had asked Pruitt to disclose his industry
ties and detail his involvement with the Rule of Law Defense
Fund, a group they said supports the agenda of the billionaire
industrialist Koch brothers. Pruitt was chairman of the group
but resigned in November.

Pruitt has not responded to the request, and Republicans on
the committee who support him have criticized the Democrats’
move saying it “extends beyond the usual questioning of an EPA
nominee’s record.”

Several conservative groups and political action committees
have countered. Small government-focused PAC Freedom Works
launched a push this month to urge lawmakers to support Pruitt’s
nomination because he will work to undo the agency’s rules
targeting carbon and methane pollution from power plants, autos
and oil and gas infrastructure.

America Rising Squared, a registered nonprofit backing
conservative issues, also launched an online petition campaign
to support Pruitt. And the National Association of Manufacturers
launched three television ads calling on viewers to contact
their senators in support of his confirmation.

Pruitt has said the debate over what is causing climate
change is not yet settled, and is likely to face questions from
lawmakers about the science behind global warming. Two
government agencies are expected to announce that 2016 was the
hottest year on record.

Pruitt’s hearing is one of a series of sessions to vet
Trump’s senior appointees since last week. Trump’s pick for
Secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was
questioned by lawmakers last week. His choice for Energy
Secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, is scheduled to
testify on Thursday.



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