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Scott Pruitt Faces Grilling on Multiple Ethics Scandals; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 26, 2018 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00]

REP. PAUL TONKO (D), NEW YORK: You did authorize him then to sign them?

PRUITT: Those -- those decisions, that decision was made by --

TONKO: Yes, or no, did you authorize him?

PRUITT: There are delegations given that authority.

TONKO: So that's a yes?

PRUITT: The inspector general recognized that, Congressman.

TONKO: So you authorized Mr. Jackson to sign those documents for you. And internal e-mails, Sarah Greenwalt, one of the aides who received the substantial raise, stated that you were aware of and supported the raises. Was that true?

PRUITT: I think with respect to the raises, what is --

TONKO: Was that true?

PRUITT: Congressman --

TONKO: I have five minutes so I have to move along.

PRUITT: I was not aware of the amount, nor was I --

TONKO: Not the amount. Aware of the raises.

PRUITT: I was not aware of the amount nor was I aware that -- the bypassing or the PPO process not being respected.

TONKO: If -- well, then I'm concerned that you have no idea of what is going on in your name at your agency, especially on an issue already under IG investigation.

You spent this week claiming to champion transparency, but on Tuesday, you blocked the press from attending an event where you announced a new proposal that will severely limit the agency's use of public health studies and policymaking.

When internal e-mails came out about this new policy last week they revealed that it had been developed entirely by political staff, seemingly without a robust outside stakeholder process. And once the press started covering those e-mails, they were removed from the agency's public FOIA portal.

I do not know if you were personally involved in the decision to remove those e-mails, but it certainly was not transparent.

Mr. Administrator, you like to claim that you support the rule of law, and acknowledge the limits of EPA's authority. Many of our environmental statutes are clear, EPA must use the best available science as a foundation of policymaking. This proposal would prevent that.

Are you aware, yes or no, that Nancy Beck raised concerns that such a policy could also impact data that would be important to industry such as confidential business information? Yes or no.

PRUITT: This effort --

TONKO: Yes or no.

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: This effort, Congressman, was about ensuring that is --

TONKO: Were you aware that --

PRUITT: -- the agency --

TONKO: Were you aware that Nancy Beck raised the concerns? Were you aware?

PRUITT: As indicated, Congressman --

TONKO: This effort is actually a reflection --

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: Commitment to transparency --

TONKO: I take that as a yes. To mitigate that concern, it appears that the proposal has been crafted so that you, the administrator, has a discretion to grant exemptions as you see fit without any transparency or accountability for your decisions. For example, if EPA was assessing the safety of a chemical, you alone would have the power to selectively block public health studies that do not support your political priorities and allow ones that favor your friends and industry.

Not only does this open the door to special treatment for industry over the public health, but you could also pick winners and losers amongst the industry types. Do you think it would be hypocritical to exempt industry data containing confidential business information from disclosure but not personal health information from public health researchers? Yes or no?

(CROSSTALK)

PRUITT: I think that's a misstatement -- Congressman, I believe that what needs to be clear is that what actions we took this week were to ensure that data and methodology were also available to those that are concerned about our rule-making.

TONKO: I -- you know, I believe it's hypocritical. So moving on, given your track record, how can the public trust your discretion to make fair decisions when it comes to those biases?

PRUITT: You know, Congressman, this was an effort to ensure transparency because as we do rule-making at the agency what --

TONKO: Based on your record, should the public trust your decision- making here with the hypocrisies that would exist in this system you defined?

PRUITT: This is actually a support of transparency for all rule- making at the agency. This is not an individual decision that is made by the administrator. This is program offices making decisions on rules --

TONKO: Sir --

PRUITT: -- that are based upon transparency --

TONKO: Sir, I think this boils down to an issue of trust. And you've developed a system where you're picking winners and losers. We pit the public against the industry or you're picking favorites within the industry, and I think there is a hypocritical outcome to it all. And with that, Mr. Chair, I yield back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thank you my colleague for staying within time. And chair recognizes the chairman of the full committee, Congressman Walden, for five minutes.

REP. GREG WALDEN (R), CHAIRMAN, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As I mentioned my opening statement, there are many reviews currently going on at the EPA. Inspector General's office, Government Accountability Office and other congressional committees about some of these concerns you're hearing about today, Mr. Administrator, and that have been raised in the media.

So my question is pretty easy. Will you commit the EPA will provide this committee with all the documents and information the EPA produces for those inquiries?

PRUITT: Absolutely.

WALDEN: Thank you. As I told you last time you were here this committee is charged by the House of Representatives with legislative and oversight responsibility for the bulk of the statutes that the EPA implements so we decide where the agency's money can best be spent. We hope you understand your guiding principles for determining legitimate uses of federal money by the EPA including whether using any kind of previous spending guidance to make these decisions. [10:35:06] PRUITT: Congressman, I believe that as we are making

decisions, we have policy and guidelines at the agency to drive those decisions. Some of them are triggered within program (INAUDIBLE), some of them are triggered with -- you know, the science part of our office. But yes, those guidelines govern our decisions each and every day.

WALDEN: And are they similar to the guideline that governed your predecessors' decisions?

PRUITT: Yes.

WALDEN: In what ways?

PRUITT: Well, these are policies that predated our time there at the agency and so they've governed are, you know, from travel, to internal decision-making on allocation of dollars to serve program offices. So these are predated policies that govern our actions every single day.

WALDEN: Let me ask you about the issue of science and transparency. I've had a lot of constituents over the years who've been very concerned about decisions in various agencies that get made by administrators or the bureaucracy and in some cases they can't get access to the underlying data that underpins the decisions.

The proposal that you put forward this last week or so, how does that address that issue? Are we going to get science that everybody gets a chance to see that can be replicated, that maybe as peer reviewed, so that -- so we all working are facts?

PRUITT: And actually this is a -- this has been an interest to Congress. As you know, there has been proposed legislation to address this very issue. And this was a regulatory action that was taken this week, a proposed rule that actually goes to the heart of transparency, as I was trying to share earlier. And because it requires that -- when we do rule-making at the agency, we can't just simply publish the conclusions, the summaries of studies because what has happened historically is third parties have provided studies or summaries.

We've taken those conclusions, used those as a basis of rule-making but not publish the data, not publish the methodology that actually supported the conclusion. And so those that are commenting on rules were ill-equipped to be able to understand whether the conclusions were rightly concluded or not. So this is an effort on our part to ensure that as we do science at the agency, internal at the EPA, use third parties, as far as findings, data, methodology and conclusion should all be a part of the package.

WALDEN: So is what you're trying to do is make more information available or less information available?

PRUITT: Absolutely more information available.

WALDEN: For the public.

PRUITT: So exactly -- WALDEN: So you're going to require -- you're going to require that

every one of these decisions or whatever they're based on, the data and the methodology, as well as the conclusions are transparent and available to the public. Is that going to be on your Web site? How are we going to know this?

PRUITT: Well, it's actually a proposed rule, Congressman. It's actually something that we are taking comment on. And I'm sure there'll be a wide array of comment on that very proposal. But the objective once again is to ensure transparency, reproduceability, with respect to the science that we rely upon in making our decisions in rule-making.

WALDEN: As you know, Mr. Administrator, last year and then I think we actually passed it into law this year, this committee unanimously, I believe, here and in the House, rewrote America's Brownfields legislation. And we are working together to rewrite safe drinking water -- clean drinking water act as well and make additional grants available.

What are you doing to help clean up these Brownfield sites that litter our neighborhoods in our country?

PRUITT: You know, we just issued a series of grants across the country this week with respect to the Brownfields program, and you're right, it's been a tremendous success reclaiming polluted areas across this country to allow communities to once again enjoy those areas. And so with the partnership of Congress, the increased omnibus, you know, provided additional money there for us to enhance that program, we are administering those grants and seeking partners, communities all over the country to ensure that these areas are cleaned up and repurposed and got to be enjoyed again by those communities.

WALDEN: I just have a few seconds left. I want to follow up on what the chairman of subcommittee talked about regarding the RFS and new fuel standards. I want you to know Mr. Flores and Mr. Shimkus and others on this committee have put a lot of time in because it's a priority of mine and theirs to figure out going forward how we have a standard that works for those who grow corn, those who refine fuels, the auto industry and the environment, and I would hope this administration would look to our leadership in this effort as well as any independent actions or the fact that we're actually a co-equal branch and the House has some authority in this area as well as the Senate. Will you commit to that?

PRUITT: Yes. I think it's essential, as I shared with the chairman earlier. Because at the end of the day, certainty is very important in this area. And I think you see tremendous investment over the last --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentleman's time has expired. We'll make sure --

WALDEN: I apologize.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to make sure that we got a lot of people lined up. We'll have more time to talk about that. WALDEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chair thanks the chairman and the chair now recognized ranking member of the subcommittee, Mr. Pallone, for five minutes.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), RANKING MEMBER, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know, I listened, Mr. Administrator, to your reasons why you haven't resigned. And basically you said that you're staying because only you can carry out the president's mission.

[10:40:02] And I strongly disagree with that. I think your actions are an embarrassment to President Trump and distract from the EPA's ability to effectively carry out the president's mission. And if I were the president, I wouldn't want your help. I'd just get rid of you. But I'm not the president, so let me move on.

It's been reported that you have even gone so far as to retaliate against EPA's employees, punishing those who questioned your spending and management and sidelining those who attempted to advance important public health protections. So I wanted to ask again, yes or no, because we don't have a lot of time, it has been reported that at least five EPA employees were recently reassigned, demoted or otherwise retaliated against after they raised concerns about your spending. Is that correct? Yes or no?

PRUITT: I don't ever recall a conversation.

PALLONE: Well, I'll take that as a yes. I was further alarmed --

PRUITT: You shouldn't take it as a yes.

PALLONE: -- that you removed the head of the EPA office that found that you did not face direct death threats. Has it always been your practice to fire people who disagree with you?

PRUITT: Congressman, the inspector general himself has noted that the threats --

(CROSSTALK)

PALLONE: No, you're not answering yes or no, so, again --

PRUITT: With respect to the quantity and the type of threats and is on the record saying so.

PALLONE: OK. Look, six staffers is a pattern. I think you need to start taking responsibility, but you say you're going to take responsibility, but you don't. I'm very concerned by this troubling pattern of retaliation, which is not only potentially illegal, but is also creating a hostile environment that's expediting the exodus of valuable expertise from the EPA. In place of those dedicated public serving insurance installing industry lobbyists, let's look at the case of Wendy Cleland Hamnet, an expert who fought to finalize a ban on methylene chloride, a deadly chemical used in paint strippers. The "New York Times" and other media have reported that her efforts

were opposed by Nancy Beck, the chemical industry lobbyist you put in charge of regulating chemicals. Just last year Nancy Beck was being paid by the chemical industry to lobby against chemical regulations, now she's retired, Nancy Beck is running the chemical program and the proposal to ban methylene chloride has been abandoned.

Yes or no, were you involved in the decision to abandon that rule- making or was that decision made by Nancy Beck?

PRUITT: The rule-making has not been abandoned. Actually --

PALLONE: Again, you say that, but that's not accurate. Do you know that manufacturers of methylene chloride paint stripper have been aware of deaths linked to this use for more than 28 years but continue to produce it, yes or no?

PRUITT: That's actually a solvent that we're considering --

PALLONE: Obviously you don't want to admit what it does. Despite all your scandals, the White House says you have the president's support because you're implementing his deregulatory agenda. But I think that agenda has real cost. In October 2017, right before EPA abandoned the rule-making Drew Wind, a 31-year-old small business owner in South Carolina died while using methylene chloride. Drew's brother is here today and I want to thank him for traveling here from South Carolina and continuing to advocate for a ban of this deadly chemical.

Were you or others at EPA aware of Drew Wind's death when the agency abandoned the ban of this deadly chemical, yes or no? Were you aware of his death?

PRUITT: I think it's important, Congressman, to know that we have a proposed ban in place that is being considered --

PALLONE: Well, obviously you're not going to admit whether you knew about Drew's death.

PRUITT": We haven't finished --

PALLONE: Unfortunately in February, another 31-year-old man, Joshua Atkins, died using a methylene chloride paint stripper to refinish his bike. I learned about Joshua from his mother Lauren who sent me a deeply touching letter. And I would ask unanimous consent, Mr. Chairman, to put that letter into the record in which she states her hope that her son will be the last to die from this chemical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we make sure we see the letter?

PALLONE: Yes, I'll give it to you right now, Mr. Chairman. Again, Mr. Pruitt, your deregulatory agenda cost lives. Real people with names, with brothers, with mothers, you have the power to finalize the ban of methylene chloride now and prevent more deaths but you haven't done it. Do you have anything to say to these families at this point?

PRUITT: Congressman, as I was trying to indicate earlier, there is a proposed ban in place that we took comment on that we're reviewing presently. There has been no decision at this time.

PALLONE: All right, well, obviously you have nothing to say to these families. Look, you say you're going to do something but these chemicals are still on the shelves and they make a mockery of Lautenberg's TSCA reform legislation that this committee works so hard on including our chairman, Mr. Shimkus, and it makes a mockery of the EPA.

You have the power immediately to get this chemical off the shelves and you're not doing it. And you should do it. And, again, Mr. Shimkus, I appreciate your help with TSCA. But he's not implementing TSCA. So I wonder if our efforts were totally in vain. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentleman yields back his time. Thanks to the gentlemen. The chair now recognizes the chairman emeritus, Congressman Barton from Texas for five minutes.

[10:45:01] REP. JOE BARTON (R), VICE CHAIRMAN, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I'm honored to have the EPA administrator back before the committee.

Mr. Administrator, you're not the first person to be the victim of, for lack of a better term, Washington politics. You got picked to be the EPA administrator because of the service you provided for the great state of Oklahoma in fighting some of the Obama administration radical clean air policies. You recommended and I support the recommendation that you made to the president that we withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. That's a decision that most of the stakeholders at EPA violently oppose.

If you can't debate the policies in Washington, you attack the personality. And that's what's happening to you. Republicans do it when it's a Democratic president. The Democrats do it when it's a Republican president. And in my opinion, it's just my opinion, that's what's happening to you. On your housing costs, were those approved? The contract before it was signed? Didn't you get an ethics review and didn't that individual say it was acceptable?

PRUITT: There had been two ethics reviews, Congressman.

BARTON: I need quick answers because I want to ask --

PRUITT: Yes, there have been two ethics reviews speaking to the lease itself saying that it met market rates.

BARTON: OK. You've been -- you've been attacked for flying first class. Is that illegal?

PRUITT: Congressman, that was approved by our travel office and the security team at the EPA. I've since made changes to that but --

BARTON: But it's not illegal.

PRUITT: It is not. BARTON: It may look bad, but it's not illegal. There was an energy

secretary named Hazel O'Leary under the Clinton administration. She leased party jets that were used by rock stars. Party jets, not one time but several times. Have you ever rented a party jet?

PRUITT: No.

BARTON: Have not rented a party jet. OK, that's good. Let's talk about this transparency issue. As I understand it, your transparency proposal is that if they're going to use the science to make a recommendation on an EPA regulation, they've got to actually report what the science is. They've got to release the documents and the data sets and all that. Is that correct?

PRUITT: That's exactly right, Congressman.

BARTON: Is there anything wrong with that?

PRUITT: I think it enhances transparency and the confidence of the American people as we do rule-making.

BARTON: I think it's an excellent idea and it's -- it is long overdue. In your budget --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the gentleman suspend for a minute. We have guests in the gallery. You're our guest. I have some magic words that will then cause you to have to leave. I do not want to say that. So if you would respect -- we were asked for decorum. That's not being decorus? Whatever the word is. So let's just continue on with the testimony and we'll move forward. The chair recognizes the chairman emeritus.

BARTON: OK. Thank you.

On your transparency proposal, if it is actually accepted, we'll actually get to see what the science is behind the support for the regulation, is that not correct?

PRUITT: It is. And I think what's been of note to me, as I've been certain at the agency is that there are a reliance, there's a reliance at the agency on many third party studies. And as those studies are supportive of our rule-making, it's important to make sure that the methodology and data accompany those conclusions so that the American people can make informed decision about the rules and whether they actually are based upon sound science.

BARTON: This is to get a little bit to the budget, we're actually here to discuss, there is a program in your agency called leaking underground storage tanks. Short acronym is LUST. The money that goes into that fund is supposed to be used to clean up or prevent leaks from underground storage tanks.

To your knowledge is there anything under current law that prevents a state from using it for other purposes? In other words, the money is supposed to be used to clean up these underground storage tanks, but my understanding is very few states use it for that purpose. PRUITT: You know, Congressman, I'm not aware of that happening. But

it's something that we would investigate and look into --

BARTON: If you do that --

(CROSSTALK)

[10:50:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman's time is expired. Chair recognizes the gentleman from California, Dr. Ruiz. Thank you for your service.

REP. RAUL RUIZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Administrator Pruitt's ethical violations as head of an agency with a mission to protect the public's health demonstrate a concerning lack of integrity and a pattern of the rich and powerful putting their rich and powerful friends and their own self interests above the interests of the public's health and at the expense of the common good.

Clean air to breathe and safe water to drink is not a privilege only for the rich and powerful, but a right for everyone. And the rule of a public servant is to serve and protect the public, in particular the public's health. However, the gross elimination of many public health protections are kickbacks to the rich lobbyists and corporation friends that have a real impact. And I want to highlight one example.

This week, the EPA announced that it intends to limit the kind of scientific studies it will use in issuing new protections to only studies that make public the private personal confidential information the people who participate in those studies -- of the people who participate in those studies. Revealing that info is a clear ethical violation of any reputable research, institutional review board in the United States.

The type of studies you want to exclude are the same kind of scientific studies that were used to prove that lead in pipes and paints harm children. And that secondhand smoke is a dangerous carcinogen. We're talking about landmark studies such as the Harvard School of Public Health's Six City Study which proved a connection between air pollution and early death back in 1993. That just by living in a city with poor air quality your average life expectancy was lower than those who did it.

This study later became the basis of fine particulate matter regulations in the Clear Air Act. When you were here in December, you and I spoke about fine particle matter which thanks to studies based on confidential patient health information we now know is associated with premature death, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function and respiratory diseases.

You acknowledged these risks and agree that there is no safe level of fine particle pollution, but your new policy would block EPA from considering the studies that have shown these dangerous health implications.

So do you deny now that fine particle pollution has these health impacts and will this new regulations cause your agency to disregard these sensible studies?

PRUITT: If they provide the data and methodology to the agency and the finding --

RUIZ: But that is a clear violation of ethical rules protecting patient confidentiality. Who is protecting --

(CROSSTALK)

RUIZ: Who's protecting the subjects in those studies? You have promised us a replacement rule for the clean power plant. Would that replacement acknowledge the health impacts of fine particle pollution?

PRUITT: We actually have been, as you know, proposed rural marketplace on just that issue.

RUIZ: Well, you know, I mentioned the risks of lead in drinking water. So with this new rule, those risks were shown by epidemiological studies that protected the patient confidentiality and all the other intricacies of confidential information.

Now your rule would lead to the idea that if it doesn't suit the manufacturers' intent, that now they -- those studies could be disregarded. So do you believe that mesothelioma can or that asbestos causes mesothelioma?

PRUITT: I do. But the confidential business information to which you refer along with personal information can be redacted.

RUIZ: So that -- so that information -- so you have been in office. You know, you have dismantled protections for the public's health and there is -- protections for children who suffer asthma, seniors with respiratory illnesses, and you demonstrated a disregard for true scientific study, the scientific process and the confidentiality of people who want to participate and help further our collective knowledge to protect the public good.

You have done this to allow your rich and powerful corporate friends to create more pollution in order to increase profit at the expense of the common good. Again children with asthma and seniors with COPD, and I'm an emergency physician, I participated in IRB boards, I know the importance of protecting the information in order to get more participants, and I have also treated children with asthma gasping for air or seniors at their last wit's end.

[10:55:03] When you remove these protections to -- under the guise of a false transparency notion, then you're making life more difficult for everyday American families. This is disgraceful and the American people deserve better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman's time expired. The chair recognizes the gentleman from West Virginia for five minutes.

REP. DAVID MCKINLEY (R), WEST VIRGINIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Administrator, for coming before us. I think that was the first policy question you got from the other side of the aisle. Observation. And the public, I think this has been a lot of a classic display of innuendo and McCarthyism that we're seeing too often here in Washington that unfortunately I think works against civility and respect for people in public office.

I am hoping we would be able to stay on policy today as much as we could. But I can see some just can't resist the limelight, the opportunity to grandstand. So having said all that, I thank you for what you've done. You've been able to stay disciplined on these policies. I know in West Virginia the impact it's had on Brownfield legislation, what you're doing on that. I see the rollback of some of the regulatory reform. That there is hope now.

A lot of the people in the fossil fuel industry, that they could see that deterioration in the past eight years prior to that. There is some hope. We're seeing the economy starting to rebound thanks to you and the administration of taking this fight on.

So I know that -- if I could, I know just an example here was an example that despite what has been said to the achievements that you've made that we just -- the EPA just awarded $1.9 million of research in drinking water with Flint, that research in Flint. People are ignoring the progress that we're making and they're trying to make this another attack on President Trump. And unfortunately there is a lot of people that are going to go along with that.

So if we could, if I could get back to it, one of the things that has disturbed me some with the -- as some of the events over the last numbers of years was we had a good friend in Leslie Lampton who passed away last week. Leslie Lampton has a refinery located in Mississippi, but they have the only refinery in West Virginia. It's a small kind of a boutique operation at 23,000 barrels.

I know the definition of a small refinery is 75,000 barrels. So they are a third of the size, but yet -- so they're struggling meeting all the qualifications, all the requirements of a major refinery. Is there something that we could work together or something to help out these small refineries so that they can compete because they can't handle the rims. They have a market for that with them. So is there something that we could be doing to help out these boutique refineries?

PRUITT: Congress has been very helpful in providing a small refinery exemption under the statute. It is objectively determined, it is 75,000 barrels as you indicated production. And we have received, I think, 24 applications in 2017, a little bit over 30 in 2018. And I would say to you the volatility of the grand trading platform is creating instability across the entire RFS discussion. So it's really in everyone's best interest to get more clarity and confidence in how this grand trading platform and relief needs to occur. It's going to benefit the ethanol industry, benefit the Ag sector and I think benefit those that are suffering with the obligations. And so it is our hope that we can chart a path forward with Congress to achieve those kinds of outcomes.

MCKINLEY: Thank you. Mr. Administrator, for numbers of years we were working to try to get resolve something for -- it was sitting out here for 30 to 40 years, it was the coal ash issue. And we got that taken care of two years ago. But my question, back to you, as administrator, are there states that have opted not to put together their own program and turn it over to the EPA or can you help us give me an update on where we are with some of the state implementation?

PRUITT: We have provided guidance to the states with respect to developing their own programs and very few states have actually done that to your question. And we are working with those state partners to equip and educate them on the option by providing the guidance. I think it's important that they pursue it. And I think it's important they pursue it in a timely way. And it hasn't taken place yet.

MCKINLEY: Have any states chosen not to put together their own program?

PRUITT: I just think it's early. It is nascent in the process. And I think it's just very few early adopter states so far. And that's the reason we're working hard to educate and inform those states.

MCKINLEY: Mr. Administrator, thank you for handling all these issues and I hope that we can stay on policy and talk about some of the progress that's been made because I think it's been good for the environment.