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Trump's would-be EPA chief faces emotional opening remarks from Democratic senator

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, listened to opening remarks this morning at his Senate confirmation hearing accusing him of being dismissive of the work of the agency he seeks to lead.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) opened the hearing with an emotional explanation of what the EPA is and why it's necessary. After declaring that climate change is not "up for debate" and is a "matter of survival," he closed his remarks by saying Pruitt's record on the EPA and environmental issues in general is "deeply troubling."

Pruitt does have a record of holding the EPA accountable. He has sued the agency 14 times, with eight of those suits currently active.

Amid mild protests that could be heard outside the room, Pruitt was not given much time to answer some of Carper's charges, which had a great deal to do with the issue of mercury. That issue has come to the forefront after the EPA limited in 2011 how much mercury oil-fired and coal-fired power plants can emit. Pruitt, along with more than 20 states, sued to block that rule. Their appeal was declined by the Supreme Court in 2016.

But Democrats apparently have a plan to use the issue of mercury to try to find a way to prevent Pruitt from being confirmed. The New Republic reported:

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt may be a climate change denier, but that alone won’t derail his nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. So when confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial pick begin on Jan. 18, you can expect to hear a lot about mercury. It’s part of a larger strategy by Senate Democrats to frame his nomination as the culmination of a cynical, years-long attack on science and reason whose purpose was to protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry—and his own.

Pruitt responded when he was given the chance by noting that one of the guiding principles he will employ if he's confirmed will be to reject the "false paradigm" that being pro-energy means being anti-environment. He also noted a desire to implement what he called "cooperative federalism," which would allow state regulators and the public more of a role in the policy considerations of the agency.

West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito focused her questions on the economic effects of some of the policy decisions of the EPA. In 2015, President Obama issued climate change regulations for new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act that targeted coal-fired power plants.

Noting that 60,000 coal jobs were lost between 2011-2016, and that six of the southern West Virginia counties were considered to be in a "great depression" as a result of those losses, Capito told Pruitt, "The EPA has given no indication that it cares about the economic impact of its policies."

Pruitt committed to making sure he investigated those impacts were he to be confirmed.

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