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Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford On Scott Pruitt And EPA


The Senate votes today on Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. After debating his nomination all night, Democrats insisted on the maximum amount of debate, though they're not expected to stop him in today's vote. Pruitt's supporters include Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, who's on the line. Senator, good morning.

JAMES LANKFORD: Hey. Good morning to you.

INSKEEP: You get any sleep?

LANKFORD: You know what? I did get some sleep in. It was a long night.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

LANKFORD: There was a lot of debate. I was on the floor all night and didn't have to be. But there's...

INSKEEP: Got a way in. Got a nap. OK.

LANKFORD: You bet.

INSKEEP: Well, now your guy is expected to win today. So talk to the other side on this, if you would, Senator. People, of course, have heard that Pruitt sued the EPA many times - more than a dozen times. Oklahoma attorney general - they've heard that he's questioned climate science. What can you say to reassure Americans that Pruitt would actually protect the environment as head of the EPA?

LANKFORD: The key thing on Scott Pruitt is that he is very passionate about the law and following the law. So I have no question he'll follow the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act as it's written. But both of those laws, as far as the major piece of legislation undergirding the EPA, assure that the states have the first responsibility and that - the states cannot or will not fulfill that, then the EPA steps in.

And where Scott Pruitt has filed lawsuits on the EPA has been when the EPA overstepped their boundary into my state and other states and said, no, we want the EPA to go first on this or to be able to have the primary lead, when the law is the first responsibility of the state.

INSKEEP: This is pretty complicated. But just to be clear on what you're saying, when you talk about the Clean Water Act, I know there's been a lot of debate about a water regulation that many people on the conservative side of the spectrum found to be intrusive. Are you saying that we can expect Scott Pruitt to stop enforcing a big part of that rule and leave it to the states to either keep the water clean or not?

LANKFORD: No. I'm saying that the first responsibility already is for the state. Each state has a department of environmental quality or some other entity. And that has primary responsibility. And most of them have been delegated authority from the EPA already to be able to enforce compliance to the rules the EPA has set down. The EPA in the last several years has said, no, we want to overstep that. And we want to be able to do the compliance enforcement, when that's really first, in the law, the state's responsibility.

INSKEEP: So the EPA will be doing less. More will be left to the states.

LANKFORD: The responsibility already is given to the states. Again, this is...

INSKEEP: I know you're saying this is the way it should be. But, in practical terms, the EPA will do less than under President Obama. That's what we're saying here.

LANKFORD: When you say less, that gives the implication that they're not going to enforce the law. That's not true.


LANKFORD: The law needs to be enforced. It's just who does the enforcement, who has primary responsibility for that. And then there are cases like the waters of the U.S. regulation that came down that was widely disagreed with by Republicans and many Democrats.

INSKEEP: Senator, just a few seconds left. Forgive me. I'm so sorry to hurry along. But a judge has ordered emails to be released from Pruitt's office detailing his dealings with fossil-fuel companies and conservative groups. You won't know what those emails say by the time you vote today. Can you assure us there's going to be nothing of concern in there?

LANKFORD: No. I can't imagine there would be. Obviously, I've never read those emails, either. But that's not an uncommon thing for anyone in government to have a four-year request to come and say, we're looking for particular emails on a subject. So that doesn't concern me.

INSKEEP: You remain confident in Scott Pruitt.

LANKFORD: I do because Scott has proven himself to be someone who's very passionate about following the law, regardless of what that is, and has been very passionate about protecting consumers, clean air, clean water, watching out for prices, making sure that we're taking care of the elderly, that we don't have big increases. So, no, it doesn't concern me. I'll think he'll do a very good job.

INSKEEP: Senator Lankford, thanks for the time - really appreciate it.

LANKFORD: Thank you.


INSKEEP: That's Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.