Senate EPW advances Pruitt nomination

scott-pruitt

Pruitt

Earlier this month, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-0 to advance Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for full consideration by the Senate.

While some Democrats boycotted the committee, Republicans voted to suspend the rule requiring two members of the minority party to be present when conducting business and held the vote without any Democrats.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) called the decision “proper under Senate rules” and said “it is time to set up a functioning government.” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s ranking member, shared uncertainty about whether Pruitt “will protect the public’s health in the absence of critical information from his record.”

During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt stated that the “grant-making role of the EPA is…very important to states across this country whether it’s the revolving funds or the WIFIA portions of our statutes.” He also said “water infrastructure is very important” and that “states play a very vital role.” Pruitt’s nomination will likely go before the full Senate in the coming weeks.

Pruitt supports WIFIA, SRF funding

Pruitt expressed strong support for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program and the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) in his written responses to questions submitted by senators following his confirmation hearing before the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee in January.

Democrats on the EPW committee released Pruitt’s responses to their written questions last week ahead of this Wednesday’s planned confirmation vote before the panel.

While Pruitt generally avoided foreshadowing enforcement or regulatory actions EPA may take under his leadership, he consistently expressed strong support for both WIFIA and the SRF programs. For example, in response to a question from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Pruitt said he is “excited by the opportunities the new WIFIA program presents” due to its ability to leverage federal investment at a ratio of up to 60 to 1. He also said he “fully supports” the Drinking Water SRF “and would not support any cuts to that program,” and repeatedly promised to support the Clean Water SRF as well.

Similarly, in response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) about which recent EPA initiatives he favors, Pruitt pointed to WIFIA because it “creates tremendous opportunities to increase water and wastewater infrastructure investment.”

Responding to questions from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Pruitt said he “will make issuing revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act Lead and Copper Rule a priority.” He declined to state his view on the “earliest possible date” to produce a revised LCR, though he said it was “his understanding that EPA expects to issue that proposed rule in 2017.” Pruitt also passed on the chance to call for the replacement of all lead service lines nationwide, labeling that “a long-term goal that municipalities should incorporate into their capital improvement plans.” Pruitt wrote that properly implemented corrosion control treatment “protects public health from exposure to lead from lead service lines.”

As was the case during his confirmation hearing, Pruitt’s written responses avoided calling for comprehensive action in response to climate change, though he did acknowledge that “the climate is changing and human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner.” But when asked what EPA could do to help communities prepare their water and wastewater infrastructure for the effects of climate change and extreme weather, he pointed to assistance available through the SRFs and WIFIA rather than endorsing any new initiatives.

EPW Committee Democrats were generally dissatisfied with Pruitt’s responses and are expected to oppose his nomination when the committee votes in the coming weeks. Republicans, on the other hand, praised his answers and noted that Pruitt answered more than 1,200 questions overall – the most for any EPA nominee since at least 1989.

In December, then President-elect Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Pruitt to lead the EPA.

If confirmed, Pruitt — a frequent opponent of President Obama’s environmental policies — would oversee the 15,000-employee agency and could undo several regulations that the president criticized throughout his campaign.

As expected, Democrats have vowed to fight Pruitt’s nomination, with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer promising a torrid confirmation process, while Republicans have largely welcomed Trump’s pick.

Regarding water infrastructure, Trump has talked about his desire to repeal EPA’s Clean Water Rule, also known as the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule. The law is one of EPA’s most hotly contested regulations, which aims to expand the agency’s authority over bodies of water across the country.

Pruitt has also criticized the Waters of the U.S. rule along with Republican lawmakers who see it as a major expansion of government power and could mean more regulations for private landowners.

A big part of President Trump’s campaign on environmental issues centered around his call to roll back rules on fossil fuel production, review all existing regulations for potential repeal, put a moratorium on nearly all new regulations and require that two rules be repealed for every new rule put in place.

Pruitt has vowed to dismantle several environmental laws and is currently involved in a legal effort by 27 states to overturn Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the former president’s primary policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If confirmed as EPA chief, Pruitt could carry out Trump’s campaign promises to repeal Obama’s entire executive climate change agenda, including the Clean Power Plan, which the President has said he will target in his first 100 days in office.


Some information contained in this news was taken from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ Jan. 30 weekly news brief.

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