There's drama this week in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as Republicans push a vote on President Trump's nominee to lead U.S. EPA, despite a boycott by Democrats. When will the full Senate consider Scott Pruitt's nomination, and will questions surrounding his confirmation follow Pruitt to EPA? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E News reporter Kevin Bogardus unpacks this week's events and discusses Pruitt's potential first moves as administrator.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Drama in the Senate as Republicans push a vote on President Trump's nominee to lead EPA. When will the full Senate consider Scott Pruitt's nomination? With me today is E&E News reporter Kevin Bogardus. Kevin, thank you for joining me.
Kevin Bogardus: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: So, Kevin, Democrats have boycotted several votes this week. What are the specific issues with the Pruitt nomination that held them back from going into that hearing room?
Kevin Bogardus: Kind of two big issues. One is, I mean, Scott Pruitt as Oklahoma's attorney general has been a big critic of EPA and sued the agency a number of times over various regulations, including Clean Power Plan. As well, since he was a political figure, he raised a lot of money from the oil and gas industry. Democrats are raising this as conflict of interest issues, especially if he becomes EPA administrator and he has to regulate the energy industry. They've asked him repeated questions in hearing as well as in written questions. After his hearing and basically said they found those answers vague and evasive. I think one of the quotes from yesterday from Senator Markey was their base Democrats were basically told to go FOIA yourself. They didn't appreciate that, basically boycotted two committee votes this week, and Senator Barrasso, the chairman of the Environmental — chairmen of the Environment and Public Works Committee, decided to suspend rules and push Pruitt's nomination through onto the Senate floor.
Monica Trauzzi: So do you think some of these issues could follow him to EPA, specifically the conflict of interest issue?
Kevin Bogardus: One thing Pruitt said repeatedly in his hearing, his confirmation hearing, was that he would seek counsel or seek advice from the EPA Career Ethics Council. What that means is he'll be going to them, probably on a case-by-case basis saying as EPA administrator, can I work on this case, can I do that? And he could be told by the Career Ethics Council at EPA that yeah you have to recuse yourself and you can't work on these cases. So that's one thing. Also, just the general theme, you could see how his tenure at EPA — as EPA chief will be attacked by environmental groups and Democrats, which is they'll be looking at how he interacts and what actions he takes with regard to the oil and gas industry. There'll be a lot of scrutiny on kind of that relationship when Pruitt takes over EPA.
Monica Trauzzi: What's the latest on when we might see a vote before the full Senate?
Kevin Bogardus: So Democrats have really slow-walked President Trump's nominations. I think we're seeing — going to see votes on only three or maybe just three nominees next week. I think it's Tom Price, Steve Mnuchin and Jeff Sessions will probably get votes next week. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn has said that Pruitt's vote — confirmation vote should come soon after. So it might be still weeks away.
Monica Trauzzi: And ultimately, your predictions for the vote.
Kevin Bogardus: I think it'll be probably pretty party line. He might attract one or two Democratic votes. I think Sen. Joe Manchin has been signaling that he's a big fan of Scott Pruitt and kind of his criticism of EPA. That said, there was — Susan Collins has voiced some concern. I think she had a radio interview where she kind of questioned why Pruitt took — filed so many lawsuits against EPA, and of course, she just announced that she was voting against Betsy DeVos for Education secretary, so her kind of maverick move from the GOP on some of these Trump nominations could continue with Scott Pruitt.
Monica Trauzzi: Do we have any further clarity at this point, if and when he's confirmed, what his top priorities will be once he's at the agency, and specifically on the Clean Power Plan, what the initial steps will be?
Kevin Bogardus: I think that's where he also offered some big and evasive answers, kind of echo Democrats. I mean, he doesn't want to box himself in on specific issues, which kind of worries some of his opponents, his critics. But I think you'll see a kinder, gentler EPA, kind of an overall theme if somebody wants to negotiate instead of sue. I think a favorite quote of Pruitt's is regulation through litigation is the wrong way to go. Not verbatim, but, I mean, that's basically the gist. So he's somewhat — and also another theme he kind of echoed is environmental regulation or, you know, good environmental policy can go hand in hand with good economic policy. So I think you will see an EPA administration who's more willing to work with industry, not nearly as aggressive as the agency was under the Obama administration.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, very interesting stuff. A lot to watch. Great reporting as always.
Kevin Bogardus: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for coming on the show.
Kevin Bogardus: Thanks.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
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