Pruitt's nuanced responses

Feb. 5, 2018
It was not surprising that Republicans were complimentary and Democrats were critical when US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator E. Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 30. To his credit, he revealed nuances in several of his actions so far.

It was not surprising that Republicans were complimentary and Democrats were critical when US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator E. Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 30. To his credit, he revealed nuances in several of his actions so far.

"You say that you are 'getting the agency back to basics,'" Ranking Minority Member Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) said in his opening statement. "But actions like the one you took just last week to reverse critical protections against hazardous air pollutants show that your EPA is actually moving us backward-all the way back, in fact, to the early 1970s when polluters were able to spew the most dangerous toxins like mercury, lead, and arsenic into the air we breathe and the water we drink."

Pruitt subsequently responded that EPA's Jan. 25 repeal of a "once in-always in" policy for classification of major sources of hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act lets a source move from a major designation to an area category when it limits its potential emissions below major source thresholds.

"The 'once in-always in' decision was about providing an incentive for companies making the investments to not being considered a major emitter. I believe we can achieve better outcomes by rewarding investments which encourage companies to do better," the administrator said.

When James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) congratulated him for halting the use of environmental groups' "sue-and-settle" strategies at EPA, Pruitt said the problem of an agency settling lawsuits to avoid further litigation costs was not unique to EPA.

"There can be a tendency to reach agreements without transparency. We have tried to end this practice. That doesn't mean we won't enter into settlements or consent decrees, but we will do so in a transparent manner," he said.

'A legal determination'

Jodi Ernst (R-Iowa) asked Pruitt whether a nationwide Reid vapor pressure waiver could be issued to let gasoline with 15% ethanol be sold during summer months. "It's not really a policy issue, but a legal determination whether a waiver can be issued nationally. We are trying to reach that determination," he said.

Noting that Pruitt has said he wants EPA to work more closely with states, Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) asked if ones such as California, which want to impose more-stringent requirements, would still be able to do so. Pruitt replied that EPA will continue to recognize California's unique situation. "But cooperative federalism doesn't mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the country," he added.

Pruitt's basic point seemed to be "we have a lot of work to do and a lot of opportunities to improve things."