“A lot of colleagues on the other side of the aisle spend a lot of time vilifying the oil and gas industry [as] somehow bad actors, polluters,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). “According to the American Petroleum Institute, 364,000 Oklahomans work in the oil or gas industry or related sectors. Are these people bad actors? Are they polluters? Are they evil people?”
“No, Senator,” Pruitt said. “They want to comply with the law.”
Later, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said that Democrats had “for years” been unfair to Republicans when they “list political contributions and suggest that they make an individual not worthwhile.” Specifically, he chided Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) for displaying a chart of energy interests that had donated to Pruitt and allied political organizations.
“Hillary Clinton raised significantly more from energy industry employees than Mr. Trump,” said Wicker, quoting from the Wall Street Journal. “They gave $149,000 to Mr. Trump’s GOP campaign, compared to $525,000 to Mrs. Clinton. Presumably based on that argument, Hillary Clinton would have been suspect had she been nominated for this position.”
That contradicted what Wicker said, however, and didn’t really match what Democrats were saying. Clinton had received donations from employees of the industry — as had her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was in the room when Wicker spoke. But as the same Wall Street Journal article noted, 90 percent of the money of employees and executives had gone to Republicans. And disclosure rules for some political groups allow them to conceal their donations.
In their defenses of Pruitt’s nomination, some of his allies portrayed Democrats as hypocrites for questioning the nominee’s ties while working with “special interests” of their own. As Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) drew attention to how an energy company wrote almost all of a 2014 letter from Pruitt and other attorneys general challenging how the EPA estimated air pollution, the pro-Republican group America Rising directed reporters to how Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democrat, “moved to conceal his apparent behind-the-scenes collaboration with” environmental groups in a 2016 document.
That complemented some Republican efforts to portray Democrats as out of touch. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee’s chairman, used one pause in the hearing to read a criticism of energy regulations from the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Yet Democrats have criticized that group’s proposals because of its large donations from ExxonMobil and a newer stream of support from Koch Industries, earmarked for the group’s work on criminal-justice policy.
In the committee, as Democrats continued to ask about energy company money, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) made the boldest attempt to put them on the defensive. Democrats, he said, were impugning Pruitt’s character and maligning “dark money” — donations routed to avoid disclosure rules — but were not talking about their backing from multimillionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.
As Inhofe rattled off the money spent by Steyer to elect Democrats, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), raised a point of order.
“Were these donations from Tom Steyer disclosed?” Carper asked.
“They were,” Inhofe said.
“That does not sound like dark money to me,” Carper said.
Inhofe laughed and moved on to another issue — whether climate scientists were being corrupted by big international money and influence.