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I Was Encouraged By Some Of Pruitt's Answers, Sen. Cardin Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Donald Trump's nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency came before a Senate panel yesterday. He's Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. His supporters say he'll protect the environment but wipe away burdensome and unnecessary regulations. Critics say he might not believe in climate change and would be dangerous running the EPA. Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland was at the hearing yesterday and is on the line. Senator, good morning.

BEN CARDIN: Dave, it's good to be with you, thank you.

GREENE: So I suppose when it comes to hearings like this, you've got to decide, do I just philosophically disagree with this nominee but I'm going to give a new president latitude, or does it go so far as to try and block a nomination? What do you think of Pruitt?

CARDIN: Well, that's correct. First of all, I'm very concerned about this nominee. He has sued the EPA on so many different issues, from clean water to clean air to climate issues. It's uncertain as to whether he believes in the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment. So I have some serious concerns about his nomination from the point of view of whether he would carry out the responsibilities of that office, and that's a very important Cabinet position.

GREENE: Well, some of those lawsuits you're talking about, I mean, they're often in his view dealing with regulations that are unfair, burdensome to businesses. I just want to listen to a little bit of what Attorney General Pruitt had to say yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT PRUITT: This paradigm that we live within today, that if you're pro-energy energy you're anti-environment and if you're pro-environment, you're anti-energy is something that I think is just a false narrative.

GREENE: What do you think of that? Can you be both pro-environment and pro-energy?

CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. An energy policy that's good for the environment's not only smart. It's also good for our economy and good for our national security. But it's energy policy that allows for less carbon emissions, which is critically important to our environment. Mr. Pruitt said things yesterday that were encouraging. We're going to evaluate his total record, but he can't avoid his past. And the question on climate change is really telling.

GREENE: Well, let me ask about that because your colleague Sen. Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, went after him on the question of global warming. And let's give a listen here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ED MARKEY: Do you agree that global warming is a hoax?

PRUITT: I do not, Senator.

MARKEY: So Donald Trump is wrong?

PRUITT: I do not believe that climate change is a hoax.

GREENE: Senator, our colleagues who report on science here at NPR have not found an example of Pruitt actually explicitly saying he doesn't believe in climate change. Here he's saying climate change is not a hoax. Has there been a little unfair labeling by critics, you know, calling Pruitt a climate change denier?

CARDIN: I really am not an expert on that subject. But I would say this. His actions have been unfriendly towards remedies on carbon emissions, and reducing carbon emissions is the number-one way that you deal with reducing the impact of climate change. And he has a record of being unsympathetic to policies that would reduce carbon. Also, the question is, will the EPA regulate? It's been - the carbon emissions has been determined to be a hazard to our air quality. Will he in fact regulate at the EPA?

GREENE: Senator, you brought up lead in water at the hearing. And it was a pretty interesting exchange because Pruitt said that he is very concerned about lead in water, but it's not something that he has studied extensively. What did you make of that?

CARDIN: Well, I found it both positive and negative. I was disappointed he didn't have a stronger position on lead. As you are aware, we have to make sure that there is no lead in our children, and we need to have the EPA enforce our water standards to make sure lead doesn't get into our water supply. He was sympathetic, but showed I guess a lack of knowledge of what should be done. He was the attorney general of Oklahoma. He should have been, I think, more aware of ways that we can work to reduce the lead exposure to our children.

GREENE: Let me ask you just a broad question, as we come to Inauguration Day tomorrow. There are a good number of your Democratic colleagues in Congress, in the House, who've decided not to attend Donald Trump's inauguration. Some have said this is a transition of power, an important moment in democracy and that that's not something that should be done. What do you make of that?

CARDIN: Well, I do think it's the office of the president. I think the right thing to do is to be there, and I will be there. It's not that I supported Donald Trump. I did not. It's not that I agree with a lot of things that he's said. I've disagreed with much of what he's said. And I'm going to take action to do everything I can to protect the values of our country. Number one, we want to see the peaceful transition of power. Two, we would like to see the Trump administration succeed, and we're going to do everything we can to make him a successful president. But those of us who disagree, that think that some of the things he's talking about are just not the values of America, we're going to speak out and do everything we can to protect American values.

GREENE: OK. Thanks as always for joining us. We really appreciate it, Senator.

CARDIN: Thank you.

GREENE: Sen. Ben Cardin is a Democratic senator from the state of Maryland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.