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By Brian Dabbs
The likely nominee for Environmental Protection Agency chief, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, isn’t showing signs he intends to sell his policy record to Senate Democrats, those lawmakers told Bloomberg BNA as the 115th Congress launched Jan. 3.
Pruitt hasn’t responded to a request, issued by Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Democrats Dec. 27, for more information on his connections with the energy industry and the nonprofit Rule of Law Defense Fund, Democrats said.
The backers of the request and a member of the Democratic leadership team said Pruitt hadn’t communicated with their offices to set up a meeting either. Pruitt is in Washington this week courting support for his nomination.
Still, Republicans are digging in behind the likely nominee.
Pruitt met with Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the EPW Committee chairman, and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the outgoing chairman, Jan. 3, but neither Pruitt nor the lawmakers answered questions from reporters. Inhofe, who has a close personal relationship with Pruitt, continues to cheer on the nominee.
A number of other Senate Republicans, including EPW member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), said Pruitt has been in touch with them to flesh out his vision for the agency. Moran told Bloomberg BNA Pruitt will fight “over-regulation.”
Republicans have regularly said Pruitt will stamp out EPA overreach and restore state rights.
FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, echoed that support in a letter to Senators Jan. 3. “The executive branch has grown far too powerful, frequently circumventing Congress to enact rules and regulations that reach far beyond legislative intent,” said President Adam Brandon, according to a release from the group. “Under his leadership at the EPA, Americans can have safe air and water and protection from government overreach through rules and regulations.”
A response to the Dec. 27 Democratic letter isn’t required by any stretch, but Democrats also said Pruitt hasn’t submitted all standard nomination paperwork, which includes a financial disclosure and other documents. Barrasso’s staff didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment on the paperwork.
Pruitt’s nomination will have to pass through the EPW Committee before reaching a full chamber vote on the Senate floor.
Democrats have modestly beefed up their numbers on the committee this Congress. Now, with the departure of ranking member Barbara Boxer, a Democratic senator from California, and the addition of newly elected Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Democrats will have 10 seats in the EPW compared to 11 Republican seats.
That means only one Republican defection, coupled with lock-step Democratic opposition, could stop the Pruitt nomination before it reached the floor.
A wide range of Democrats, including new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), are calling for a vigorous nomination process for Pruitt, arguing the official’s widely-publicized climate change skepticism render him unfit to lead the agency. Pruitt is still involved in active lawsuits against the EPA over the Clean Water Rule, Clean Power Plan and methane limits for the oil and natural gas industry.
Meanwhile, his silence on the Senate EPW Democrat request, which asked for information on donors and expenditures for the Rule of Law Defense Fund, doesn’t bode well for Democratic support. “This guy does have a pretty bad record to begin with and this will certainly make it worse,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who led the five additional signatories to the letter, told Bloomberg BNA.
The fund is a private group that has challenged a range of federal regulations, including the Clean Power Plan. Internal Revenue Service filings show that Pruitt is a director of the organization, as are other state Republican attorneys general. The letter said Freedom Partners, another conservative advocacy group, has contributed $175,000 to the fund during the past three years.
Counsel for the fund told Pruitt to dismiss the letter, saying the organization’s 501(c)(4) IRS status means it doesn’t have to disclose donors.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) did not sign that letter, but a spokesman for her office suggested she intends to fight the nomination. “Senator Gillibrand has very serious concerns about Scott Pruitt’s record, particularly on climate change, and she will be asking him to address those concerns during the upcoming confirmation hearings,” spokesman Marc Brumer said.
Newly anointed EPW Committee ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) didn’t join the letter either, choosing to send his own, more broad inquiry Dec. 28.
“It should come as no surprise that we are deeply troubled by some of your past actions and comments,” Carper said in a letter released to Bloomberg BNA. The memo includes more than five full pages of questions, touching on personal leadership qualities and financial relationships, among a wide range of other inquiries.
The memo requests answers by Jan. 9, but Pruitt has not yet replied, a Carper spokeswoman said. Many Democrats, however, continue to seek communication with the likely nominee. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said they would like to meet with Pruitt.
“I’ve always been deferential to an executive who wants to put a team together,” Manchin told Bloomberg BNA.
Barrasso has not yet outlined a schedule for the nomination process.
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Sen. Carper's Dec. 28 letter to Scott Pruitt is available at http://src.bna.com/k7H
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