With Pruitt, Murkowski chides without charring

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt endured criticism from senators and protestors at a hearing Wednesday. Image: C-SPAN.

Democratic senators on Wednesday¬†accused EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt of betraying the public trust with luxury travel and by cozying up to lobbyists. Sen. Lisa Murkowski did not ask confrontational questions, but she did not leap to Pruitt’s defense, either.

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Murkowski chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and was the only Republican senator at most of the hearing.

Democrats, like Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, accused the administrator of letting his ego run amok. Leahy ridiculed the idea that Pruitt had to travel first class and be guarded at all times to ensure his safety.

“Oh, somebody might criticize you. You’ve got security people like we’ve never seen before. But you have to travel first class,” Leahy said. “Oh, come on.”

Murkowski says she agrees with many of Pruitt’s policy goals, but she says controversies surrounding Pruitt are overshadowing his work.

“I’m being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on security, on housing and on travel,” Murkowski told him. “Instead of seeing articles about your efforts to return the agency to its core mission, I’m reading about your interactions with representatives of the industries that you regulate.”

Murkowski attributed some of that to adversarial politics.

“But I do think there are legitimate questions that need to be answered,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski offered Pruitt essentially an open mic – an opportunity to say whatever he wanted to about the accusations against him.

Pruitt did not apologize or accept blame. He attributed much of the criticism to competing political agendas.

“There are worldviews that drive the decisions we should make at the agency and over the last several years we’ve seen a competition with respect to how we should approach our business,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt acknowledged making some decisions he would not make the same way again. But in other cases, he said the agency just didn’t have processes in place to prevent abuse from taking place.

Pruitt cited the $43,000 secure phone booth he had installed in his office as an example.

“There were not proper controls, early, to ensure a legal review,” Pruitt said.

The stated purpose of the hearing was to review the EPA budget for next year. The Trump administration wants to reduce or eliminate programs to improve water infrastructure in Alaska Native communities. It also wants to eliminate a grant program that has helped Fairbanks reduce air pollution by replacing wood stoves with cleaner burning models. Murkowski opposes cuts to both programs. She says the final spending plan for EPA won’t much resemble the one the Trump administration proposes.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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