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Trump’s EPA pick promises to review Obama mpg decision

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Donald Trump’s choice to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promised Wednesday to review the Obama administration’s decision last week to finalize stringent fuel economy rules that are estimated to add at least $2,000 to the sticker price of a vehicle.

In response to a question from U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., during his Senate confirmation hearing, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the EPA acted too hastily when it finalized mileage rules that require automakers to produce car and truck fleets averaging around 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Those rules by law were originally set to be reviewed for their feasibility by April 2018.

“Senator, as you indicated, the obligation was to meet the November ... 2018 midterm review,” he said. “I think the study that was completed, was finished December 30 and they issued the findings within 14 days. That time period is something I’m not sure that normally happens as far as the time, the velocity of 14 days, but it merits review and I would review that.”

Detroit’s automakers and congressional Republicans have accused the EPA of reneging on a 2012 deal between the industry and the Obama administration that initially called for the mileage rules to be reviewed in 2018.

“After losing the election, the Obama administration broke the deal by prematurely issuing new regulations,” Inhofe said during Wednesday’s hearing. “This decision was made unexpectedly and well over a year before the EPA said it would make the determination. This shortened time frame and process is concerning.”

Environmentalists have criticized Trump for choosing Pruitt to run the EPA, citing the fact that he has sued the agency over climate regulations and has said the climate debate is “far from settled.”

Pruitt also said Wednesday that climate change is real, breaking with both the president-elect and his own past statements.

In response to questions during his confirmation hearing, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump’s earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States.

“I do not believe climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt said.

The 48-year-old Republican has previously cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame. In a 2016 opinion article, Pruitt suggested that the debate over global warming “is far from settled” and he claimed that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”

At the hearing before the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee, Pruitt conceded that human activity contributes “in some manner” to climate change. He continued, however, to question whether the burning of fossil fuels is the primary reason, and refused to say whether sea levels are rising.

Pruitt’s testimony came shortly after NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a joint statement affirming that 2016 was officially the hottest year in recorded history.

Pressed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to answer in detail about his beliefs about climate change, Pruitt responded that his personal opinion was “immaterial” to how he would enforce environmental laws.

Associated Press contributed.

Commerce secretary

Trump’s pick for commerce secretary said Wednesday that he favors “sensible trade,” is pro-union and believes his vast business dealings have given experience fighting other countries’ unfair trade practices.

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross cited his relationship with the United Steelworkers Union, which has endorsed him for the Cabinet post, as proof that he will work to protect American jobs.

Health secretary

The president-elect’s pick for health secretary said Wednesday that access and affordability were his goals for revamping health care, and he offered assurances that the new administration is not planning to launch a Medicare overhaul.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at the start of a confirmation process that at times turned contentious.

He said the health care system is losing focus on patients, its first priority. He answered “absolutely not,” when asked if the incoming administration intends to tackle Medicare while trying to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law and replace it with a GOP version.

U.N. ambassador

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pledged her support for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a shift firmly endorsed by Donald Trump but one that could trigger more violence in the Middle East.

Haley, Trump’s pick to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that she “absolutely” backs the embassy move because that’s what Israel and congressional Republicans want. But a spokesman for Jordan’s government recently told the Associated Press that the embassy move would be a “red line” for Amman and “inflame the Islamic and Arab streets.”

Defense secretary

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted decisively Wednesday to approve Donald Trump’s pick for defense secretary, clearing the way for retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to be confirmed shortly after the president-elect is sworn in.

On a vote of 26-1, the Republican-led panel agreed that Mattis’ nomination should be sent directly to the full Senate for consideration instead of first being referred to the committee.

Associated Press