Washington — Scott Pruitt was confirmed Friday as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency by a 52-46 Senate vote.
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Oklahoma's attorney general since 2011, Pruitt has sued EPA on behalf of the state and argued it overstepped its authority into areas that states should control. But he struck a more moderate tone during his confirmation hearing, saying he would honor Congress' intent in carrying out regulations.
Highlights of his energy-related comments during the confirmation process that could signal his impact on policy ahead:
Pruitt said he would uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard and only deviate from statutory volume increases after careful deliberation, distancing himself from his previous criticism of the policy as an "unworkable" and "flawed program."
While Pruitt is not expected to change 2017 blending levels, he could lower 2018 targets due in November and possibly side with refiners and blenders urging the agency to move the RFS point of obligation to the wholesale rack.
"The EPA needs to better administer this program to provide involved entities with the certainty they need," he said.
FUEL ECONOMY RULES
Pruitt said he would work with Congress to administer the corporate-average fuel economy standards but did not say whether he would uphold a midterm review that the Obama administration finalized in its last weeks in office. The review found that automakers are meeting the 2022-25 emissions standards quicker and at lower costs than expected, creating no need to curb the federal targets set in 2012.
Pruitt would ensure the rules "provide the best possible legal framework for governing American fuels, fuel infrastructure, and vehicles, and for promoting American energy independence, energy security, and environmental protection," he said.
While President Donald Trump expressed a desire to get rid of EPA while campaigning and has called the agency's work a disgrace, Pruitt said EPA served a valuable role and still has much work to do. But he said the agency under his leadership would respect the rule of law, partner with states and respect public participation when making regulations.
"We must reject as a nation the false paradigm that if you're pro-energy, you're anti-environment, and if you're pro-environment, you're anti-energy," Pruitt said. "I utterly reject that narrative."
When asked about his environmental philosophy and what he would do to protect the environment, Pruitt said the regulated community currently suffers from an "inability to predict or know what's expected of them as far as their obligations under our environmental laws." He said EPA's mission is to protect natural resources, improve air and water quality, help ensure the health and welfare of citizens and pursue vigorous enforcement where necessary.
When asked if he believed there was a need to transform the US energy system away from fossil fuels to protect the planet for future generations, Pruitt said that the EPA and its administrator have "a very important role in regulating the emissions of CO2." He declined to expand on that response.
COOPERATION WITH STATES
Pruitt said states are "not mere vessels of federal will -- they don't exist simply to carry out federal dictates from Washington, DC."
"There are substantive requirements, obligations, authorities, jurisdiction granted to the states under our environmental statutes," he said.
When states' rights are not respected, "that is what spawned most of the litigation referenced here today," he said. "It matters that the states participate in the way Congress dictated, and they've been unable to do so for a number of years."
Pruitt made clear that he disagreed with Trump's campaign statements that climate change was a hoax, conceding that the climate is changing and that "human activity in some manner impacts that change." But, "the ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue," he said.
When pressed to share what he believed to be causing climate change, Pruitt said his personal opinion was immaterial to the job of EPA administrator. Rather, that job "is to carry out the statutes as passed by this body," and those statutes put constraints on what EPA can do in regards to carbon emissions, Pruitt said.
Asked why he took no action as Oklahoma attorney general in response to a spike in earthquakes tied to wastewater injection wells, Pruitt said the state has taken the issue very seriously and has successfully regulated hydraulic fracturing for decades.
"While earthquakes have increased in frequency in recent years, the state has taken aggressive actions and reports have indicated the rate of seismic events has recently declined," he said. "Seismic activity can of course have significant impacts on communities and the activities linked to seismicity concerns in Oklahoma are regulated under state law by other agencies that my office works with as appropriate under Oklahoma law."
Asked about reports that the Trump administration wanted to slash EPA's budget, Pruitt said he had no first-hand knowledge of such a plan. "If confirmed, I will work to ensure that the limited resources appropriated to EPA by Congress are managed wisely in pursuit of that important mission and in accordance with all applicable legal authorities," he said.
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