Trump Transition

How EPA nominee Pruitt could shape the climate and energy agenda

As Congress votes to confirm President Trump's Cabinet picks, how will the new agency heads shape this administration's climate and energy agenda? E&ETV recently produced a series of discussions following the confirmation hearings of U.S. EPA administrator nominee Scott Pruitt, Energy secretary nominee Rick Perry, secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson and Interior secretary nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.).

E&E News reporters Robin Bravender and Kevin Bogardus join E&ETV Managing Editor Monica Trauzzi, along with Bracewell partner Scott Segal and Natural Resources Defense Council Climate and Clean Air Program Director John Walke, for analysis of the Pruitt hearing. This conversation originally aired on Facebook Live.


Monica Trauzzi: Good afternoon. I'm Monica Trauzzi from the E&E News newsroom in Washington, D.C. Thank you for watching us on Facebook Live. Following yesterday's information hearing for EPA administrator nominee Scott Pruitt, we'll be answering some questions live and also getting into a discussion on what exactly happened at yesterday's hearing and also what this all could mean for the future of EPA. Please use the comment section below the video to ask us your questions. I will be checking them and asking the panel.

So with me today for the discussion are E&E reporters Kevin Bogardus and Robin Bravender. Hello to you both. We also have Scott Segal, head of the Policy Resolution Group at Bracewell, and directly to my right, John Walke, director of the Clean Air Project and Climate and Clean Air Program at NRDC. Thank you, guys, all for joining me. It was a very interesting hearing yesterday, yeah?

Kevin Bogardus: Long.

Monica Trauzzi: Long. It was long, yes. And then there was that whole discussion at the end about whether they should ask more questions. So coming into the hearing, for weeks there was a lot of talk about how the Senate panel was going to approach the conversation on the Clean Power Plan, and that was really, like, everyone's focus. But what we saw yesterday was this emergence of some key themes, and the Clean Power Plan was mixed into that. There was the question of what Pruitt's relationship is with Big Oil. There's this theme of federalism. There were many questions about whether Pruitt would recuse himself from matters that he's suing EPA for right now, one of those being the Clean Power Plan. I'm curious from each of you what you thought the big piece of news was coming out of that hearing, Kevin.

Kevin Bogardus: I think a couple things were definitely the Dems. The Democrats' line of attack was conflicts, conflicts of interest, approaching them, asking him about his ties to political groups that have taken contributions from energy companies. That was one approach, but also the litigation as well. They were very surprised he said he wouldn't recuse himself from litigation against the agency. He kept on referring to ethics council at EPA, basically set himself up for about a — I think in his ethics agreement he said for about one year he'll seek authorization to do anything that involves the state of Oklahoma, which involves a lot of these still-pending lawsuits. So I think that was a big kind of approach from them. So they threw a lot of punches. He handled himself pretty well and kept his cool. There was a lot of talk about you're siding with looters, do you care about the children of Oklahoma, and he basically kind of just stuck to his talking points and moved through, and he always seemed to be saved by the bell. John Barrasso, the chairman, always would come in with — I don't know how much they added to the record, but I feel like it must have been a record in itself how much — every article they had to rebut every Democratic question. So it was definitely an interesting hearing and one that the Democrats threw everything they could at him, but I think he's going to be OK in the end.

Robin Bravender: He diverged from Trump on some key issues too. So he doesn't think global warming's a hoax, he thinks that EPA has a really important role to play in regulating it, EPA is important in general, which is a turn from Donald Trump's remarks on the campaign trail that he'd like to eliminate the agency, so that might be a piece of hope for some of the folks inside the agency and folks in the environmental community who are concerned about him, but Democrats certainly didn't seem appeased by any of those answers.

Monica Trauzzi: Scott, for you, what was the big news?

Scott Segal: Well, I think the important part for any confirmation hearing is you need to be boring, and what injected a degree of boredom into all this is, you know, he takes a very — as an attorney, he takes a very process-oriented point of view to a lot of these issues, and it is possible to disagree with the process that EPA used, or even the text of rulemaking that they generated but still believe in the underlying significance of EPA's mission and of the environmental issues that those rules are meant to address. And I think he did a nice job, kind of like a judicial nominee would, of saying, listen, there are open dockets on these issues. We're going to hear comments on these issues, it's not appropriate for me to reach conclusions of law as administrator of EPA when there's more work to be done on the administrative process.

It also makes a nice contrast, frankly, with the current EPA because the current EPA has oftentimes come up with rules that are so far removed from their statutory authorization, and with members of the press has not been particularly open about what's going on at EPA or about sharing documents and the like that I think he could say, look, we all benefit if I can return this agency to a better, more open, more transparent process. You may not agree with me on where we come out, but at least we can agree that this is the process we ought to utilize. I think he did a nice job of doing that, made the hearing boring, made him successful.

Monica Trauzzi: John.

John Walke: So for me, there were probably three big takeaways. I agree with Kevin that this question of conflict of interest and corruption and entanglement with industries that he regulated really was a big theme, and his refusal to recuse himself from matters where Oklahoma had been involved, unlike Carol Browner, who did the same thing when she became EPA Administrator and recused herself permanently from matters with Florida, not just the one-year thing. I thought it was also interesting how his response to that conflict of interest was frankly rather glib. He said I'm going to have the person who reports to me at EPA conclude that I don't suffer from these conflicts of interest, and that's hardly independent, it's hardly room for reassurance.

The second big takeaway for me was the establishment, which we knew already, that he really does represent the EPA nominee who is the most hostile to EPA, hostile to its mission and hostile to air and water pollution reductions that we've ever seen at EPA. If Scott can think of another who was more hostile, I'd like to hear his opinion.

And then the final thing, and I would encourage, actually, reporters to follow up on this. I actually don't think he shifted as much from positions as one might have concluded from that hearing, and the reason is that he is very lawyer. He is very slick. Slick things happen to be also slippery. His answers on climate change, you know, did not meet the very low bar of climate change being a hoax, but I would submit that it's much closer to the Bush administration's positions on climate change, which is we're just not going to do anything about it. And if you parse his words carefully, he preserved the ability to say he would do nothing or do anything as he saw fit because that would be consistent with how he thought the law might be.

Monica Trauzzi: One of the most engaging moments on climate specifically was when Senator Sanders asked why is the climate changing and Pruitt replied that his personal feeling was immaterial. Is an administrator's personal feeling actually immaterial when they are charged through the endangerment finding to do something on climate change?

John Walke: That answer to me is incoherent. It's like saying I'm incapable of processing information that I've received as a human being so I don't have an opinion about it. It was a really weak evasion strategy, and Senator Sanders did lead him to admit that he does not believe that climate change — that human activity is the fundamental reason responsible for climate change, which is going to sound to a lot of Americans like denialism. So I really don't think he walked back much from his prior positions that cast him as close to a climate denier as one could be without suing that label.

Scott Segal: Well, I think it was perhaps a glib answer to an extremely silly question. The fact of the matter is that the policy of the United States in addressing carbon and climate change generally is a policy that is set between the Congress of the United States and the president of the United States. The EPA is an administrative agency. It is not a charitable organization, it is not a religious organization, it is an administrative agency that administers the assignments that it is given, and so what his personal views are on particular issues are not relevant. That said, he's expressed his personal views. He said he doesn't think climate change is a hoax. National Public Radio had a great review that was out this morning that was pretty clear. They said they searched all of his writing and his public statements and can find no evidence of the environmentalist fundraising critique which has been offered that he is somehow a denialist.

John Walke: Except his answer at the hearing yesterday where he said he didn't think it's the fundamental reason.

Scott Segal: I know people who deny the impact of anthropogenic sources of emissions on climate change. There are some working in transition, I'll admit it, but Scott Pruitt is not one of those people. He made that clear at the hearing yesterday, not in a non-lawyerly fashion. And I said didn't — doesn't this put you a bit at odds with President Trump, and he repeated his answer, "I do not believe it's a hoax." He, in other places has said that anthropogenic emissions do contribute. The extent of how much anthropogenic emissions contribute is fundamentally wrapped up in what the appropriate policy response might be.

John Walke: That's wrong. That's wrong.

Scott Segal: And if it is wrapped up in the policy response, which is correct in my judgment, there is not a consensus on what the appropriate policy response is. There certainly isn't a consensus on the Clean Power Plan, where a majority of states voted to have it set aside and another — and the rest of the states had to join into the same litigation. All of these states coming together may have a position in litigation that differs from where EPA comes out, and I guess, according to some of the Democrats on the committee, if you're an environmental official or a legal official of any of the 50 states, you have to recuse yourself from the —

Monica Trauzzi: All right, so let's talk about the CPP a bit. So Pruitt said that he — he could not say where on the priority scale for him reducing emissions would fall, but he also said that he would not revisit the endangerment finding. How does this all go down from if he is confirmed, from the day he gets there, in terms of how he handles the CPP to next steps to potentially new regulations to reduce emissions? How do you see this all playing out?

John Walke: Let me give two thoughts to that. The first is I would encourage you to go back and look at exactly what he said about the endangerment finding. My recollection as he said something to the effect of I know of nothing now that would lead me to believe that EPA needs to review and revise the endangerment finding. That is a very lawyerly answer. All it takes is for him to learn something from the people on the transition team who have been calling on Twitter for that to be reversed for the past three months after the election.

Scott Segal: But he's not in office. What should he say?

John Walke: OK, I'm just saying look at that answer in light of what he has reserved for himself the ability to do.

Scott Segal: It would be improper for him to say I'm going to reverse. It would be improper for him to say I'm never going to reverse. I think it would be improper because he needs to look at the —

John Walke: The second thing I would note is that he was given opportunities to opine on whether he might reverse certain rules or not reverse certain rules, and look at the answers he chose to — the questions he chose to answer. Ethanol. He got into a big scrap with Senator Ernst and Senator Duckworth because he, by golly, did not want to answer whether he was going to uphold the renewable fuel standard or whether he was going to sabotage ethanol when asked repeatedly by Republican and Democratic corn state senators.

Scott Segal: Did you just say sabotage ethanol? Doesn't NRDC oppose the renewable fuel standard?

John Walke: I'm just describing. So the second —

Monica Trauzzi: I want to hear from the reporters also on the RFS specifically, if you felt there was any kind of clarity on his stance.

Kevin Bogardus: I think that was one of his tougher moments. I think his — also, to get a little off track, I mean, his answer on lead in drinking water was also, I think, considered just one real slip, but again, he didn't give the Senators, like John was saying, didn't give the Senators what they wanted. He didn't say I'm going to really uphold the RFS. I mean, Senator Duckworth really came back to him repeatedly, again and again trying to get him, you know, locked down in a commitment, and like Scott has been saying, he took a lawyerly approach, he's not in office yet, he's not confirmed, he said, you know, there's a comment period going on and we've got to see what's going on. I can't — it's not right for me to comment.

Scott Segal: On that issue, Tammy Duckworth zeroed in, for example, on whether the point of obligation should be moved for, you know, the generation of renewable identification numbers under the renewable fuel standard. That has an open docket. There are comments — the docket doesn't even close until February 20th, or thereabouts. I mean, it's absurd to make him come to a specific conclusion on something that is still open, and her characterization of the issue, you know, she's a new United States senator, and I'm sure she's going to have a wonderful career as time goes by, but her characterization of the issue was not accurate. So to set up a straw man question and then expect a definitive answer to it is exactly what — when I was a debate coach, I taught, you know, eighth- and ninth-graders not to find acceptable.

John Walke: But the reason she asked is because he's on record, as is President-elect Trump bashing ethanol and bashing the renewable fuel standard, and the ethanol lobby should be terrified. And I don't think there was anything at yesterday's hearing that should give them any more solace. If anything, I'd be more scared.

Scott Segal: Now, if I break down what he said about ethanol, he said, look, ethanol policy is generated by the Congress and the president. It's up to them, these are bigger policy issues EPA implements. And EPA will do that. They will do that with fealty to the law. That's exactly what Chuck Grassley and his private meetings with him and what other members of the committee had asked for. I do not think Joni Ernst was particularly upset with the answer. I do agree that Tammy Duckworth seemed a little nonplussed, but then again, I think what you're seeing there is the difference in political affiliation, not a reaction to his ethanol stance.

Robin Bravender: His answer on that one was in line with many of the rest of his comments, saying I'll do what I have to as EPA administrator, and here's what Congress said, and I will do what Congress told me.

John Walke: Well, except on the Clean Water Rule, where he told Senator Ernst he plans to reduce its scope. He has made pretty clear that he is going to do with the Clean Power Plan. I mean, he picks and chooses what he wants to admit he's going to reverse, depending on the politics. And I suppose it was a safe and smart way for him to escape the hearing, but it's a frankly terrifying thought that this ardent, ardent EPA opponent is in a position to become EPA administrator.

Scott Segal: Of course, he was already on record on CPP, and Waters of the United States, or whatever we're calling it now, is totally a creature of the discretion of the agency, and that has — you know, they didn't have to do that, they weren't ordered to do that. It's at the discretion of the agency, so —

John Walke: Everything we've discussed today falls in agency discretion.

Scott Segal: He's in a little easier position on those issues than he is on issues which have a pure statutory guidance that he has to follow.

Monica Trauzzi: Let's go back to the ethics question. So if the EPA Ethics Council finds that Pruitt can move forward and proceed with cases that he's currently involved with and suing EPA for. What does that mean for precedent? What does that mean for the bigger picture of what his role is as administrator? I mean, that would be a pretty big deal, wouldn't it?

John Walke: It would be a big deal, and it won't be the end of the story. Lawyers have bar obligations that do not allow them to switch sides in cases. Merely receiving a waiver from Oklahoma when there are multiple parties to a case with joint defense agreements that are also privileged to attorney-client privileged information where he was collaborating with industry co-counsel in these cases, where he was being represented pro bono by a Washington law firm that threw five attorneys with two years' time at a case at the same time they represent the fossil fuel industry in the Clean Power Plan litigation, it's not going to put an end to it, especially when it's a subordinate that reports to him that is going to rubber stamp on ... because he kept throwing the answer back and back to this hapless official who you can imagine sitting in his office at EPA watching this on a computer terrified. That's not going to be the end of the matter.

Scott Segal: Well, first of all, I've got a lot to say about this. First of all, there are different kinds of conflicts. When we actually do a legit conflicts analysis, the participation of the state of Oklahoma was in opposition to a rule of general applicability. It was not a defense of an enforcement action. It was not a — he was not defending a personal injury lawsuit or something like that. So it's participation in a rulemaking process. It is very similar in like and kind to filing of rulemaking comments in order to advance it.

John Walke: Litigation is a particular matter like a contract —

Scott Segal: And that is where you are the most wrong because he is not joining the Environmental Protection Agency as a lawyer, and you know that.

John Walke: He can't participate in the litigation by switching sides.

Scott Segal: If he were — he's not participating in the litigation.

John Walke: So he has to recuse himself from the litigation.

Scott Segal: He is joining as the administrator of EPA. You might have a point. I don't think so, but you might have a point if he were joining the Justice Department's ENRD division or becoming the general counsel of EPA. He is not joining EPA as a lawyer. He's joining EPA — yes, you've just struck on it. He's a client.

John Walke: Who's making the decisions about the litigation, just like your clients do when they hire you guys.

Scott Segal: And he is the client, and the legal conflict rule does not attach to the client.

John Walke: No, you're wrong.

Scott Segal: Look up the ABA rule.

John Walke: You're wrong. But then why is he recusing himself for a year?

Scott Segal: That's not on these issues of rules of general applicability. That's not what he said yesterday.

John Walke: He said he's recusing himself for one year.

Kevin Bogardus: Just to interject, what's interesting about it is he's saying he'll consult with the ethics council for one year, so that's going to be a fun thing to FOIA actually because —

Monica Trauzzi: Kevin's a big fan of FOIA.

Kevin Bogardus: Big fan of FOIA.

Scott Segal: Kevin, I think it'll all be very much on the record.

John Walke: They'll deny it.

Kevin Bogardus: You think they'll release it? Usually ethics waivers they say are available for public release because the FOIA get them and there's only a few people who do that.

Scott Segal: They haven't asked me for advice, but I would advise them to have —

Kevin Bogardus: You would advise them to put it right on the website as soon as it happens? That would be great.

Monica Trauzzi: Kevin will be watching for that.

Kevin Bogardus: I'll be watching either way.

John Walke: It would differ from the current administration if they did make it available.

Kevin Bogardus: So he might get a waiver to participate in the Clean Power Plan litigation or he might not get a waiver to participate in the Waters of U.S. litigation, so I mean, you know, there's going to be lawyers looking at this within the agency, which is pretty interesting.

Robin Bravender: How much does it actually matter, though, if he's participating or other Trump officials are doing it in his place?

Scott Segal: Well, would we all agree that Donald J. Trump was not a party to these cases? And would we all agree that as president of the United States, under a principle called the unitary executive, that he's large and in charge? And if that's the case, then I think the government of the United States will have a particular position. It will be consistent with Scott Pruitt's litigation position when he was in Oklahoma. He will have — that will move forward and, Robin, I think I get the point of your question. I don't think it'll have much — even if he had to recuse, I don't think it would have much impact.

John Walke: So you think EPA will reverse all the Obama administration rules that Pruitt is suing to challenge?

Scott Segal: Not all, no. Not all of them, but there are some that Trump mentioned specifically. He mentioned Clean Power Plan. ...

John Walke: But he's suing over many more than that.

Monica Trauzzi: We have a question from Twitter on how the vote might break down, specifically Manchin, what he might do. What are you guys hearing so far?

Robin Bravender: Manchin already, before the confirmation hearing happened, came out with his support for him. His vote seems to be a lock. Doesn't seem like any other Republican senators will break from this.

Kevin Bogardus: Yeah, I think the idea of getting a Republican senator almost fell apart on the first day. A lot of Republican senators kind of feigned ignorance talking to reporters saying I don't know, but big target was Lindsey Graham, and he completely just said I'm going to vote for the guy and brought up the fact that, you know, he's not as strong on climate change as some environmental groups would want and brought up the fact that also Democrats are treating this as a litmus test of whether you believe in climate change science or not, I remember Senator Graham telling ... "I don't — you know, I appreciate the advice, but I don't usually take it from Democrats." So he seems very comfortable, and I would think he's going to vote for — there's other targets as well. People supported amendments saying they believe climate change science — or climate change is caused by humans, but I haven't seen them make a big break. Seems to be — I think it's a question of how many Dems go. Senator Casey, Sen. Bob Casey came out and said he would vote against Pruitt last night in a statement. I think that was someone who might have gone for Pruitt.

Scott Segal: What about Heitkamp?

Kevin Bogardus: Heitkamp told us last night that she was still undecided. So I think that's the question, whether it's — so what are we at? We're 52-48 in the Senate, whether it's going to be 53 or 54 for Pruitt. I think it's going to be very party line.

Scott Segal: And we all agree there's no problem getting out of committee. I mean, this committee —

Robin Bravender: It voted along party lines yesterday.

Scott Segal: Yeah, this committee has been a rather polarized committee for the last decade or so.

Kevin Bogardus: Have you done any thinking on the Jeff Sessions, whether, again, talking about recusals, there's been some thought, like maybe Jeff Sessions recused himself from votes on fellow Cabinet members? There's been a push from some Democrats on that. That's kind of fallen dead too, but again, if Jeff Sessions came out and said he'd recuse himself from votes, it could be a 10-10 vote in the committee.

Scott Segal: I can't — for the life of me, I don't see a reason why he should recuse himself on an EPW vote on the EPA administrator.

John Walke: He should recuse himself from voting on any Trump nominations because he's a nominee. I mean, to me, that's just a textbook conflict of interest.

Scott Segal: He's also a member of the United States Senate.

John Walke: On the other EPA nominee — on the other —

Scott Segal: By the way —

John Walke: — potentially gettable votes, though, Senator King announced about an hour again that he was voting against Pruitt.

Kevin Bogardus: Yeah.

John Walke: The other senators on the Republican side that I think are hopefully open-minded about considering a vote against him would be Senators Collins, Alexander, Heller, and I agree with you that they have been quiet, but I think they've been quiet for a reason. They have not stepped forward and announced their support. Senator Alexander's statement, in particular, was interesting. His very first statement said, you know, I'm a big supporter of clean air, the Smokys' tourism depends on clean air, public health. The very first paragraph in the statement itself that didn't appear to be accidental. He voted against the Congressional Review Act resolution to kill the mercury rule. Senator Collins did as well. These are senators who care about clean air, and I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that they will vote to support someone who's sued to overturn that rule and others that have saved tens of thousands of lives.

Scott Segal: And yet, Collins has said — and I think this is a right way to view things — that she may not agree with particular nominees and where they come out on policy positions, yet that's not a principle basis for rejecting their confirmation simply because she believes — and this used to be the rule of the roost around these parts — that you give the president his or her discretion to pick their own team, and an important word to the wise for people listening in, if they manage to defeat Scott Pruitt or Rex Tillerson or whoever, you know, the people who defeated him don't get to pick the new nominee.

John Walke: Yeah, we might get Jeff Holmstead. I mean, so isn't that why you're here and he's not?

Monica Trauzzi: I've got a colleague —

John Walke: I thought I would show up and be sitting next to Jeff Holmstead, but he's apparently still interested in a position at EPA.

Scott Segal: I'll tell you this. I don't know a lot about Jeff Holmstead, but I know he is a great — I know that he is a great American who has a heart of gold.

John Walke: I agree with that.

Scott Segal: And probably the single expert on the Clean Air Act in our time.

John Walke: What about me?

Monica Trauzzi: Let's see if he commented.

Scott Segal: As I said.

Robin Bravender: So even if the Pruitt fight takes a while, it might take him a while to get confirmed in the Senate if they need to wrestle come votes, which could mean that the Trump administration can't start its priorities at EPA on day one.

Scott Segal: He'll be confirmed by February 1st.

Monica Trauzzi: OK. John, how is NRDC — what's your strategy for working with a Pruitt EPA if he is confirmed?

John Walke: Well, we'll see what he plans to do since he's avoiding indicating what that is right now, as yesterday showed, but to the extent that they undertake a clean air agenda which mirrors the first term of the Bush administration where they devoted themselves to deregulatory rulemakings, we will do the same thing we did then, which is to go to court and to overturn those rules for being inconsistent with the statute. I'm not saying that will be true in every instance. We don't know what they're going to do. We'll have to see what the arguments they make are, but certainly any retreat from progress that they make will be met with fierce opposition in the courts and also on Capitol Hill where there are a lot of really nasty bills that have already been voted out of the House, and we expect the Senate to take up in short order.

Scott Segal: If I were answering that question, I mean, in other words, how would I advise NRDC, I would say the following. If you want — unless you want everything to end up in litigation, you might try advocacy with a Scott Pruitt that stresses certain core principles, and those principles being rule of law, constitutional government, cooperative federalism, and these are things that find their way into your briefs from time to time. You are not immune from making these arguments, but I do believe he has a strong personal commitment to those arguments, and I believe you can fashion — and I think he believes in the regulatory mission of the EPA. He may regard it as a more modest mission than Lisa Jackson or Gina McCarthy did, but he still believes in that core mission because it is in statute. So make statutory arguments, make constitutional arguments, you might just convince him.

Monica Trauzzi: Kevin and Robin, I want to get some color from inside the hearing room from you guys. I thought the award for best use of a prop goes to Senator Markey for his use of the Trump water bottle. I thought it was very well-delivered and done.

Scott Segal: Always entertaining.

Monica Trauzzi: What did you guys observe in the room? What didn't we see?

Kevin Bogardus: Well, it started loud. I don't think — I don't know if this was captured on the cameras, but I — especially there was two press tables, and I was at kind of the little kids' press table, which I didn't feel too bad because I was also with the AP, Associated Press, energy reporter. I was, like, OK, this wasn't a comment on our news organization. So beyond that, I was next to the hearing room door, and right away, starting right before the hearing, you could hear the protesters. I think there was a Standing Rock protester in full Native American garb. Didn't make it into the hearing. It sounded like it got pretty hairy out there at one point, but we really couldn't see anything because we were in the hearing. But we were hearing it, and then sometimes the door would open and protesters would scream in. That said, a few people did make it in, and a few protesters did make it in. We had the usual routine of standing up and yelling some slogan and then being taken out, but as the day wore on, I mean, essentially interest in the energy kind of died down. I think they did a good job of really running through their questions. I mean, Democrats were also pushing for more questions, and I think they were right to say that Senator Barrasso was fair on that. he really gave them as many rounds as they wanted, including a whole debate on whether to do kind of a fourth mini-round of questions, which the reporters were very much enjoying off to the side.

Robin Bravender: Which took about a half an hour deciding how long they were going to be there.

Kevin Bogardus: It was an excellent example of the world's greatest ... body in action. But I mean, inside the hearing room, I mean, Trump transition team had some high-profile surrogates around, including C. Boyden Gray, who's White House counsel for the first President Bush, and also a few other folks as well, and it was interesting. I think it was one of the — I was wondering how raucous it was going to be. It seemed, you know, talking about Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, that seemed like it was just nonstop. I was wondering if we were going to have that, but basically I actually put on my notepad protesters interrupted, and I started doing checks, and I only did two checks. I only saw two people get taken out of the room.

Scott Segal: Don't you think one of the winners in this hearing was Barrasso? I mean, I thought Barrasso was super on his game. I mean, look, you've got to admit, I mean, every time — did you use the expression saved by the bell? Or somebody did.

Kevin Bogardus: I did. Great show too.

Scott Segal: Yeah, exactly. I was on it as a younger man, but anyway, what was interesting about it was every time an issue came to a head, you know, and time legitimately ran out, then Barrasso would take a moment and use his prerogative as chair to insert a document in the record that was perfectly timed. Like, on the ethanol debate, for example, after that discussion went on, Duckworth had, you know, really taken a forceful position, went out, they allowed the next question, I guess this might be Inhofe or somebody, allowed him to talk, could have talked a little bit more. But then, there was Barrasso ready with an endorsement letter from the American Farm Bureau.

Robin Bravender: His staffers were busy. They must have had a lot of note tabs with their —

Monica Trauzzi: He was also — he was complimented many times by the Democrats on the panel.

John Walke: I will say this. I agree with Scott. I thought that Senator Barrasso conducted a good and a fair hearing and gave more time at the end. The real test, though, is going to be whether there is rammed through a hasty sham vote in the committee before the answers to the questions for the record have been answered.

Robin Bravender: Senator Inhofe was ready for that yesterday.

Monica Trauzzi: At the end of the hearing, he thought that it was happening.

John Walke: Senator Carper raised that, and it's interesting. You may have made some news here today, buddy. It seems like Scott has some inside information that suggests he thinks it is going to be rammed through by February 1st, which would mean scheduling a hearing in the committee probably at the beginning of this coming week and then the floor vote later, so it is not humanly possible to answer questions that have not even been submitted. Gina McCarthy received over 1,200 questions from the Republicans, and so the next test will be whether Senator Barrasso and the Republicans allow the Democrats to answer as many questions as they wished in order to have a fair understanding of Scott Pruitt's record. Lindsey Graham didn't wait to announce he was going to vote for him before that, but I hope that other senators will.

Scott Segal: So the last five EPA administrators have all been approved in the month of January. I think that's correct. I think I read that in Greenwire. So I know it must be right.

Robin Bravender: Must be true.

Scott Segal: And by the way, February 1 date, maybe it's aspirational perhaps, but I think I saw Barrasso say that. Am I wrong?

Kevin Bogardus: I think we had — also I should give a shout-out to Geof Koss, our Capitol Hill reporter. While I sat in the hearing, he also was basically running around and getting senators as they came out as they broke for lunch, and he got a — did talk to Barrasso, and Barrasso said he wants to see Pruitt in place by February 1st.

John Walke: Then they won't be able to allow him to answer the questions.

Robin Bravender: He did have those questions weeks ago, according to Senator Carper. He just hasn't answered them.

Monica Trauzzi: Well, but he said he was following —


John Walke: The post-hearing questions are usually more numerous. Pre-hearing questions are kind of a get to know you, and he did say he was following the chair's —

Monica Trauzzi: So on the questions, were there any questions that you thought the panel missed? That you were surprised that they didn't ask or topics that they should have dived into more?

Kevin Bogardus: I think I was most surprised by the kind of focus by the Dems. They completely went — they definitely — I thought it was going to be all climate. Instead, it would seem to be most all conflicts with climate thrown in, and maybe they thought they had something. They had a lot of huge printouts of, you know, industry-written letters, and they also went out — they kind of went after what has been pitched as a strength for Pruitt, which is his working out this agreement with the Arkansas attorney general on the Illinois River cleanup from poultry producers' pollution, which is something he touted in his opening statement and other people have looked at too. We've done some reporting on that, and environmentalists don't say that was, you know, a good deal worked out by Pruitt. So they really kind of — they went conflicts instead of climate. I think that was the surprise for me, and I think that's the way they were trying to go. And I think the problem with that is I think it's great for the press. There's been some really great reporting on Pruitt's record by us and also other organizations. I mean, New York Times, I think that helped them win the Pulitzer back in December 2014. They kind of wrote the first story on Pruitt where he — his office kind of copied and pasted a letter from Devon Energy on — criticizing EPA on methane. So he's been kind of — had this storyline of him siding with industry has been out there, so I think that's really where I thought their strength was, but it's also a really tough case to prove, and I don't know — it's not one that's going to get Republican votes or pressure on Republican senators, I don't think, too much from their voters.

Monica Trauzzi: And because there was so much a focus on that, he didn't really have to dig into a lot of the specifics of the job and the nuances.

Robin Bravender: I was surprised by that. I was expecting to hear more about sort of how he planned to approach this agency, which even after the incoming administration has said, OK, we don't plan to eliminate this agency. They have said they're expecting dramatic cutbacks. We didn't hear much about the workforce. So I know that's important to current EPA staffers, what is he actually going to do on day one, how's he going to manage this big agency.

Scott Segal: I was very surprised that there weren't nuts and bolts questions about budget, number of employees, the so-called discussion of sending more programs back to the states and block granting and things like that. There just — none of that occurred. Now, I do think one of the reasons they didn't spend a lot of time on climate — alleged climate denialism is because I just — I don't think the record — I mean, he's got litigation, no doubt, against CPP, but you don't have to be — you don't have to love the Clean Power Plan to acknowledge that there should be an approach to climate change, because the Clean Power Plan stinks. So you shouldn't have to acknowledge a rule that stinks in order to prove a point that you want to address climate change. I think when they dug into the record on climate, they didn't find a lot of smoking guns of the sort they wanted to use, so it did throw them back on kind of an older strain against Pruitt, and you know, the fact of the matter is Pruitt's in the state of Oklahoma, Oklahoma's a heavy fossil fuel state, it's not a surprise, he's a statewide elected official. It's not surprising that he would know, understand, speak with and even occasionally utilize materials provided by that industry. It's a big industry in Oklahoma.

Monica Trauzzi: John, you get the final word.

John Walke: The biggest surprise by me was the inability to establish environmental achievements, qualifications or credentials for the man. They've had months and months to do that. The first three Republican senators didn't identify a single one, and it didn't get much better from there. He tried pointing, amazingly, to this Arkansas poultry pollution case as an environmental achievement after The New York Times completely eviscerated that storyline over the weekend in an article on Saturday. And he was left kind of scrambling and sputtering to fall back on this egg story that he identified.

Let me just give you a tip. Go investigate when he took office and when the consent to creating that case was launched. I don't think you could conclude from that passage of time that he did work on the case. The case was brought by EPA and it —

Scott Segal: EPA and Oklahoma together.

John Walke: That's right. They filed the complaint, the consent to create on the same day several months after he took office, and the investigation had been going on well before then, so he was claiming credit for something that clearly wasn't something that was an achievement because he didn't have anything else to offer, and that is absolutely horrifying for someone about to take over EPA.

Scott Segal: But ask the EPA environmental regulator — I'm sorry, the Oklahoma environmental regulators. They said they had a close working relationship with him and they have not felt that he has subjugated their views to the perspectives of industry.

John Walke: That's not what the guy in the New York Times story said on Saturday.

Scott Segal: Well, get your news from somewhere other than New York Times.

Monica Trauzzi: Greenwire is an excellent place for that. E&E News. All right, and with that, thank you all. That was a fantastic discussion. Thank you. And thank you for watching.

[End of Audio]



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