EPA chief Scott Pruitt says regulators 'exist to give certainty' in first speech to agency

Scott Pruitt testifies during his Senate confirmation hearing for EPA administrator, Jan. 18, 2017.
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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt called on his agency to offer certainty to those it regulates and advocated for federalism in his first speech to Environmental Protection Agency employees on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump's divisive pick to lead the EPA was confirmed and sworn in Friday, following efforts by Democrats to block the confirmation in committee hearings and before the full Senate.

"Regulations ought to make things regular. Regulators exist to give certainty to those that they regulate. Those that we regulate ought to know what's expected of them, so that they can plan and allocate resources to comply," Pruitt said Tuesday, reflecting his remarks in a hearing before a Senate committee last month.

Pruitt added that following established processes matters because it sends a message about how the EPA views its role in taking comments from regulated entities, as well as how the agency considers its impact on the marketplace.

Environmentalists and progressives have fiercely opposed Pruitt, who has questioned the science behind climate change and sued the EPA 14 times on behalf of Oklahoma while serving as the state's attorney general.

Nearly 800 former EPA officials signed a letter urging the Senate to reject Pruitt's confirmation. Rather than focusing on the market impacts of the EPA's work, they highlighted the agency's "fundamental obligation to act in the public's interest" and its work to preserve strides toward ensuring Americans have access to clean air and water and uncontaminated land.

"Mr. Pruitt's record and public statements strongly suggest that he does not share the vision or agree with the underlying principles of our environmental statutes," the bipartisan group of former officials said.

Conservatives and the energy industry have hailed Pruitt as an advocate for giving states more control over environmental rules and for fighting what they see as regulatory overreach by the Obama administration.

Pruitt, who formed a "federalism unit" at the Oklahoma attorney general's office, on Tuesday said it was important for the EPA to cooperate with state-level officials.

"I seek to ensure that we engender the trust of those at the state level, that those at the state level see us as partners in this very important mission we have as an agency, and not adversaries," he said.

Pruitt is widely expected to execute Trump's promise to scale back Obama-era rules and initiatives aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The president is expected to sign executive actions to roll back those rules as early as this week.

Pruitt's first speech comes on the same day the Oklahoma attorney general's office faces a court-ordered deadline to turn over its communications with fossil fuel companies to a watchdog group. A New York Times investigation found the office had signed a letter drafted by Devon Energy that accused regulators of overstating pollution from natural gas wells.