Wednesday, February 1, 2017
I was very glad to see the news today that Democratic senators boycotted the confirmation hearing of Scott Pruitt, the OK Attorney General nominated to lead the EPA. When I watched part of his January 18th hearing online, I found myself wondering why we bother. Republicans have the votes to confirm anyone they want, and evasive answers are often easy to give, so what’s the use?
Now it occurs to me that, even if they don't ultimately block the confirmation, the hearings serve the purpose of jolting the nominee out of her/his bubble and making her/him realize that there are a lot of voices that s/he will need to listen to that s/he probably hasn’t been paying any attention to. In other words, the purpose is to educate. A guy like Pruitt has only dealt with environmental issues in an ideological way – one of the pack of Republican attorney generals that fought selected Obama initiatives on the grounds of federalism or simple anti-regulatory zeal. He has never had to really think about why we need environmental laws and how to implement them effectively.
So that hearing might be considered "Environmental Policy 101." Happily, it was seven hours long, a sign (I think) of how much Pruitt needs to learn. But, it seems that he didn't pass the test. On Monday, Democratic senators on the Senate Committee and Public Works requested postponement of today's hearing due to Pruitt's lack of substantive responses to some questions, particularly regarding various conflicts of interest arising from his past record of suits against EPA regulations and his ties to the fossil fuel industry. Democrats are understandably concerned that he will fail to learn the most important lesson of all, that his new job would be to support EPA's mission of environmental protection, not to undermine and weaken the agency as he has in the past.
So, "Environmental Policy 101" continues, hopefully until Democratic senators are satisfied. But Republican senators will probably find a way to give Pruitt a pass, as they did today for Trump's nominees to lead Treasury and Health and Human Services: a surprise meeting to suspend committee rules and vote without the Democrats. Well, I hope Pruitt at least got a glimpse of the vast terrain of environmental policy that he is likely to be in charge of soon. Soon, it seems, the task of educating him will fall to all of us!