Scott Pruitt, facing U.S. senators in his bid to be confirmed as nominee to head the EPA, distanced himself from candidate Donald Trump's promise to "gut" the agency and his claim that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China.
"I believe that there is a very important role for the Environmental Protection Agency," said Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and vocal critic of the agency, before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. But he stressed that if he's confirmed, state agencies would be given a broader role in identifying and addressing environmental priorities.
"We have made progress as a country, but we have work to do, and the EPA has a very valuable role in partnering with the states to carry out those steps to ensure improving our air quality and protecting our nation's waters."
Pruitt said the EPA's proposal to finalize light-vehicle greenhouse-gas standards for 2022-25 model-year vehicles just 14 days after the comment period expired struck him as rushed and "merits review." The auto industry decried the move as a politically motivated maneuver by the outgoing Obama administration that short-circuited a promised midterm review of the standards.
"Rule of law matters," Pruitt said in his opening statement to the panel. "Process matters. It inspires confidence in those that are regulated."
Pruitt was noncommittal on whether he would uphold the so-called California waiver -- a policy that allows the state to set air-quality regulations that are stricter than the federal rules -- saying he would review the matter on its merits as it came up before the agency.
He pledged to be a good listener and lead the agency "with civility," especially in the debate over combating climate change, where he said such civility was lacking.
"Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change," he said. "The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and so they should be."
Responding to a direct question about Trump's campaign rhetoric, Pruitt said: "I do not believe that climate change is a hoax."