Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt spent the majority of his Thursday being raked over the coals by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee before a second (even uglier) exchange with theÂ House Appropriations subcommittee. The majority of the time was spent addressing concerns surroundingÂ Pruitt’s expenditures â€” things like unnecessary first-class travel, a $43,000 soundproof phone booth, and his 24-hour security team. There were also discussions about alleged death threats against Pruitt and EPA staff, his overall conduct, and even a little bit on environmental policy.
Those discussions, however, saw some subcommittee members accuse Pruitt of championing the profits of oil companies and automakers over the wellbeing of the planet. The EPA head spent the duration of Thursday defending his actions, including plannedÂ regulatory rollbacks on fuel economy. He also supported theÂ automotive industry’s proposal to abolish 87 octane and replace it with 95.
As ugly as the day was for Pruitt, Republicans occasionally hopped on the mic to gently support him.Â Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said, “I think the greatest sin youâ€™ve done is, youâ€™ve actually done what President Trump ran on.”
For our purposes, the majority of the EPA’s spending habits are irrelevant. However, there are exceptions. AÂ member of the House Appropriations subcommittee discussing Pruittâ€™s trips abroad asked about a recent visit to Morocco, where he promoted U.S. natural gas exports. “I canâ€™t for the life of me imagine why an EPA administrator would be over there promoting energy sales,” Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) said.
Pruitt explained the trip as a preliminary meeting for the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement and had been asked to go overÂ liquefied natural gas by an ambassador.
His ties to the business end of energy, especially with oil companies, was called further into question later in the interview. Numerous references were made to leaked emails withÂ oil and gas executives. But, as there is nothing illegal about being on friendly terms with people, the most the subcommittee could do is accuse him of being soft on them.
Pruitt’s proposal to roll back Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards was believed by many to be the smoking gun of favoritism. But he defended the decision of easing fueling standards by reminding the panel that people aren’t buying enough economical vehicles.
“We ought to endeavor as a country to set standards for lower emissions on cars that people actually want to buy,” Pruitt said. “And what’s happened is we’ve created these arbitrary levels that has put a certain sector of cars in the marketplace that no one is purchasing, which means they stay on older vehicles and defeats the purpose of the rule.”
He went on to say that one way of helping automakers meet CAFE is to pursue a national standard for high octane fuel. Automakers have come together to push 95 octane as the new regular for pump gas, claiming it will ultimately lead to higher-compression engines that bolster average economy.Â That endorsement certainly doesn’t help his image as playing favorites with carmakers and oil firms, especially since automakers could already do that without eliminating 87 octane via governmental action.
The State of New York recently announced its intent to sue the Trump administration if it carries out its proposal to repeal the EPA climate change rules for power plants and has sided with California in its adherence to Obama-era fuel economy regulations. However, Pruitt said there is no plan at the moment to revoke California’s waiver to maintain stricter air quality standards than those of the federal government. But he also said the EPA’s goal was to create a single program all states could adhere to, and that he is working with the California Air Resources Board to establish one.