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Democratic senators unhappy with EPA nominee's response to 1,000 questions

Senate Democrats are displeased with responses received from U.S. EPA administrator-nominee Scott Pruitt, who reportedly responded to over 1,000 questions, according to Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Pruitt, who is the attorney general of Oklahoma, was sent away from the committee hearing Jan. 18 to address questions from several of the committee's Democratic members. He has since responded to those questions, according to both parties.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., the committee's ranking member, said Pruitt's testimony at the hearing contradicted his record and provoked concerns about his nomination to lead the EPA. He explained that the additional questions, of which he submitted at least 151 since Pruitt was nominated, were an effort to clarify the nominee's vision for the agency. But Carper felt Pruitt's answers were inadequate and did not contain the level of detail on certain issues that they should have considering the importance of the EPA administrator role.

"Mr. Pruitt's responses were shockingly devoid of substance, did not rely on empirical evidence and did not reflect the thorough effort that a task so important to our democracy demands," Carper said.

The response from Pruitt included a 53-page document detailing legal cases he participated in as attorney general; speeches or presentations made on energy or environmental issues since 1998; letters he has sent to various politicians and prepared testimony from appearances before Congress. The questions were answered in a 242-page document. The senators pressed for information on local environmental issues, climate change, environmental justice, hydraulic fracturing, cooperative federalism, conflicts of interest, legal cases Pruitt participated in and rules he has fought as attorney general.

On many occasions, Pruitt declined to speak to specific issues but said if confirmed, he would rely on the advice of EPA staff and ethics officials and would take direction from Congress to execute the agency's mission. He promised to faithfully execute the law as enacted by Congress.

Pruitt also promised to uphold the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards "so long as that rule remains in force," and said he would do his best to stick to the five-year review period for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Under the Obama administration, environmental groups have been successful on numerous occasions in suing the EPA to force reviews of certain pollutants due to missed deadlines under the NAAQS. The nominee declined to offer an explanation on how he might go about replacing the Clean Power Plan, should the Trump administration succeed in repealing that rule as planned.

Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said the number of questions received and responded to by Pruitt was unprecedented for an EPA administrator nominee. "Mr. Pruitt has thoughtfully responded to each and provided further evidence as to why he should be confirmed for administrator of the EPA," Barrasso said.

Barrasso noted the number of questions answered by previous nominees to the agency and said Pruitt faced 200 at the hearing, with an additional 1,000 written questions. "Mr. Pruitt has answered over 1,000 more questions than incoming nominees for EPA administrator from the Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations," Barrasso's statement said.

According to Think Progress, which is associated with progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, previous administrator Gina McCarthy faced 1,100 questions during her marathon confirmation process in 2013. Congress took an unprecedented four and a half months to confirm McCarthy, who left the agency Jan. 20.

Carper told media Jan. 24 that a vote on Pruitt's confirmation could come in early February.