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Sen Schatz: Climate Denier Must Not Lead EPA

January 18, 2017, 10:35 AM HST
* Updated January 18, 10:38 AM
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On the Senate floor yesterday, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) led a group of senators in calling on Senate Republicans to reject President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

In his remarks, Sen. Schatz outlined Pruitt’s record of undermining the EPA and denying manmade climate change.

“Scott Pruitt is a professional climate denier,” said Sen. Schatz. “That is his job. He has made his political bones trying to shred the EPA’s ability to enforce the laws that protect clean air and water. If you are not a climate denier yourself, do not put one in charge of the EPA.”

The full text of Sen. Schatz’s floor speech follows:

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Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA is bad for the air we breathe and the water that we drink, and it’s bad for American leadership on climate.

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It’s not that I just have a different view from Mr. Pruitt on the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s that he has made a career out of undermining the federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

It’s not just that he’s a Republican or that he doesn’t share my views about clean energy. Look, I understand that when a Republican administration comes in, their EPA nominee is going to have a different view of what the agency should be doing. I’m not suggesting that we were going to get Henry Waxman or Jeff Merkley to run the President-Elect’s EPA. That’s not what’s going on here.

Here’s what it is, and I want people to listen carefully here.

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Scott Pruitt is a professional climate denier. That is his job. He has made his political bones trying to shred the EPA’s ability to enforce the laws that protect clean air and water.

The core mission of the EPA is to safeguard public health by enforcing the laws on the books, and the cornerstones are the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

These laws were passed over 40 years ago with huge bipartisan majorities, and have been extremely successful.

It’s especially important for the dozens of young people watching CSPAN, to understand this: the state of the environment in the late 1960s was catastrophic, like out of a science fiction movie. But even for those of us who were around, it’s a good reminder of what the EPA does.

The Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted that it caught on fire. Lake Erie was so polluted that almost nothing could live in it. Bacteria levels in the Hudson River were 170 times above levels that could be considered safe. Raw sewage was directly discharged into rivers and streams where children would swim. The FDA found that 87% of U.S. swordfish contained so much mercury that they were unfit for human consumption.

Then the Clean Water Act was passed, and we made incredible progress in the last 44 years. We still have a long way to go, as about one-third of our waterways are not yet fishable and swimmable, as the law requires.

But Scott Pruitt’s opposition for the Clean Water Act and EPA makes me terrified that we could go back to the bad old days of water pollution.

EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act is an even bigger success story. This law has saved millions of lives, and improved the health of millions of others.

EPA’s enforcement of the law has reduced air pollution by 70% since 1970. Smog levels in Los Angeles have fallen by two-thirds since its peak. Lead in our air is down 98%, carbon monoxide is down 85%, and sulfur dioxide is down 80%t. Acid rain is down over 50%t, and at a fraction of the anticipated cost.

But this progress is in serious jeopardy.

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General and as the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association, he dismantled the unit in his office charged with enforcing federal environmental laws and stood up a unit to undermine federal environmental law.

He led opposition to the Clean Power Plan.

He’s sued the federal government over a dozen times to prevent the implementation of rules that would protect our health and our environment. What he does is fight the EPA. That’s his thing.

As Oklahoma Attorney General—he literally—and I’m not making this up—he literally copy-and-pasted a letter from a major oil company onto official state attorney general letterhead and sent it to the EPA.

I’ve never met Mr. Pruitt, and I assume he’s personally a good guy, so I will say it like this: a person who works so closely with industries that pollute our air and water is an unusually bad fit to lead the EPA.

Never before in the history of the EPA has a president nominated someone so opposed to the EPA to run the EPA.

And, on the most significant environmental challenge of our generation, he’s aggressively wrong.

He has said that the climate debate is “far from settled,” and that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connections to the actions of mankind.” This is, of course, nuts.

The climate debate is settled, and has been for some time. More than 97% of climate scientists agree that the climate is changing, and that humans are responsible. Ask a scientist. Ask a farmer, ask a fisherman, ask a skier or snowboarder.

If you don’t believe 97% of scientists, will you at least believe your own eyes?

His position even puts him at odds with the Department of Defense, which has called climate change a “threat multiplier.”

But here’s the good news – we are actually making lots of progress in clean energy, almost all of it private sector driven.

The cost of solar power has dropped by 60% in the last ten years, and more new solar capacity was added in 2016 than any other energy source. Wind power was by far the largest energy source added to the grid in 2015.

Renewable generation grew by about 20% over the last year, and the long-term extensions of renewable energy tax credits will help that trend continue in the future.

This comes at a time when public concern about climate change is at an eight-year high, and with three quarters of Americans -including half of Republicans – supporting federal efforts to reduce carbon pollution.

But this progress is fragile, and confirming Scott Pruitt can undermine the momentum.

Again, here’s Mr. Pruitt, in his own words: About the Clean Power Plan, he has said: “The EPA does not possess the authority under the Clean Air Act to accomplish what it proposes in the unlawful Clean Power Plan.” This is flat wrong.

Let me quickly explain a lawsuit called Massachusetts v. EPA. The Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate air pollution. Carbon pollution is a pollutant.

So not only may the EPA regulate greenhouse gas emissions, they actually are required to under the law.

He has bragged that he “led the charge with repeated notices and subsequent lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

On climate change, he said “Is it truly man-made and is this just simply another period of time where the Earth is cooling, increasing in heat? Is it just typical, natural type of occurrences as opposed [to] what the administration says?”

I cannot think of a person more ill-suited to run this agency.

On clean energy, the Chinese are leading. Mexico is leading. Europe is leading, Germany, Africa. The question isn’t whether the clean energy revolution will occur – the question is whether or not we will lead it or get left in the dust.

So this is where we are.

A nominee who does not understand the vital role of clean air, clean water, and protecting the environment has been nominated to lead the EPA. Who denies decades of scientific research.

To my Republican colleagues, I have had many encouraging, rational conversations about climate with you, but mostly in private. I say this: this vote is the litmus test, the one your grandkids will ask you about.

Being in the Senate is about making choices, and a lot of times, it’s gray. But this issue, this vote, is absolutely simple.

Don’t vote for the climate denier. You can’t dabble in conservation or energy efficiency, or vote for a budget amendment recognizing the scientific consensus on climate change, and then vote yes on this nominee.

If you say you are not a climate denier, this is the point in your career when you get to prove it.

If we find another nominee, even one that hates the Clean Power Plan, who shares your views on federalism, who shares your views about the United Nations, who shares your views about President Obama – that’s fair, that’s fine. But this nominee is out of bounds.
Please, consult your voters, your university experts. Talk to your kids –it’s their planet, it’s their future. Or consult with your conscience.

I know that sometimes politics is complicated and the right thing is not so easy to determine in the fog of the battle.

This is not one of those times.

For future generations, for the planet, for the future of the Republican Party, you have got to get this one right.

If you are not a climate denier yourself, do not put one in charge of the EPA.

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