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EPA pick Scott Pruitt repeats doubts about climate science and attacks on the agency he is expected to head

Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency kicked off a contentious confirmation hearing Wednesday, expressing doubt about mainstream climate science and harshly criticizing the agency he seeks to lead.

Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt was defiant in the face of questioning from Democratic senators who attacked his record on environmental protection, skepticism about the impact of global warming and financial ties to some of the nation’s biggest oil and gas companies.

Pruitt said the EPA’s aggressive enforcement of federal anti-pollution rules during the Obama administration reflects inappropriate overreach that he would change.

“Regulators are supposed to make things regular,” Pruitt said at the start of the hearing, “to fairly and equitably enforce the rules and not pick winners and losers.”

He charged that the issue of climate change had been overtaken by emotion and incivility.  “We should not succumb to personalizing matters,” he said.

Although Pruitt said that he accepts that human activity is affecting the climate, he expressed doubt over the mainstream scientific consensus that the warming is happening at a catastrophic pace that must be confronted with aggressive actions.

“The ability to measure with precision the extent of [human] impact and what to do about it are subject to continued debate and dialogue,” Pruitt said.

The hearing follows a weeks-long assault by environmental groups against Pruitt that began the day Trump named him to lead the agency.

Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee took up the fight on Wednesday, accusing Pruitt of ignorance of climate science, a disregard for millions of Americans whose health is being harmed by air pollution and an inappropriately cozy relationship with big energy companies.

“The reality that our climate is changing is not up for grabs, not up for debate,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware.  He then noted that Christine Todd Whitman, who led the EPA under President George W. Bush, has said she cannot recall a previous appointee for the job who has shown as much disdain for the agency as Pruitt.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island detailed how climate change is damaging the shellfish industry in his state, before skewering Pruitt for his suggestion that climate science is unsettled.

“I see nothing in your career that you would care at all about our Rhode Island shell fishermen,” he said.

Pruitt’s close ties with energy companies were repeatedly brought up by Democrats as the hearing got underway. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon presented a letter Pruitt sent to the EPA protesting its enforcement of methane rules.

The letter was written almost entirely by Devon Energy. Pruitt had changed just a few words.

“A public office is about serving the public,” Merkley said. “You used your office as a direct extension of an oll company rather than a direct extension of the public health of the people of Oklahoma.”

Pruitt said sending the letter written almost entirely by an oil firm was appropriate.

“The letter sent to the EPA was not sent on behalf of any one company; it was particular to an industry,” he said. “There was concern expressed by many in the industry about the overestimating that occurred in relation to that methane rule.”

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