Seth Rudman, 28, a scientific researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, asked, “Can you describe the shortcomings of the scientific evidence for climate change and the type of data that would be needed to convince you that climate change is happening?”
While being a scientist is not a requirement for the job, readers worried about what having a climate denier at the top might mean for the agency.
“During the Bush administration, climate scientists, including Dr. James Hansen, claimed that their voices were suppressed and their reports changed to minimize the role of humans in accelerating climate change and its impact,” wrote Donald Chartier, 60, the founder and chief executive of an internet company in Chicago. “Can you assure us that E.P.A. scientists will be allowed to present scientific evidence and data freely to the American people, without retaliation?”
Others focused on the risk Mr. Pruitt was taking by denying the risks of climate change.
“If the scientific consensus on climate change proves correct and the changes in the Earth’s weather cause widespread devastation, loss of life and property and great economic damage, who should be held responsible for staying the actions that might have prevented or ameliorated these outcomes?” asked Joseph Griffin, 72, a retiree from Bellefonte, Pa.
During his time as attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has been seen by some to be cozy with the fossil fuel industry. He filed 14 suits against the E.P.A., challenging the agency’s environmental regulations, looking to soften the blow of federal policies against oil, gas, agriculture and other interests. In 13 of those cases, companies that had contributed money to Mr. Pruitt or to Pruitt-affiliated political campaign committees also signed on.
Readers were concerned that Mr. Pruitt might continue to advance the interests of industry, possibly to the detriment of public health and safety.
“How do you intend to serve the public need to protect the environment when you have demonstrated a preference for the rights of corporate shareholders?” asked Alison ten Cate, 50, an energy efficiency consultant from Belmont, Calif.
Others wrote that Mr. Pruitt should be asked if he would be willing to disclose the companies and lobbyists that have given money to his campaigns, and agree to recuse himself from decisions involving them.
Regulations and states’ rights
Mr. Pruitt has argued that states are in a better position to regulate their environment and industries than the federal government, which he has accused of overreach.
Many readers argued that air and water do not respect state borders, so it is the federal government’s responsibility to regulate these interstate issues.
“You have worked against the E.P.A. in favor of managing interstate and global issues at the state level. Why?” asked Charles Haddox, 59, a marketing manager in Denver. “What success stories can you relate in detail showing states are more successful at protecting resources in the absence of federal regulation?”
They also wondered where the limits of Mr. Pruitt’s federalism might lie.
“Does your belief in federalism mean you will not interfere with the efforts of California and other states to address climate change?” wrote Michael McCabe, 19, a student at Sarah Lawrence College. “Or will you serve the interests of the fossil fuel industry and interfere with states’ efforts?”
Some asked practical questions, like Mavis Negroni-Foosaner, 65, a part-time teacher and naturalist in Memphis, who wanted to know how Mr. Pruitt could continue to push for state and local jurisdiction of clean air and water “in light of the Flint, Mich., water scandal.” High levels of lead were found in the city’s water supply, largely a result of state and local regulatory failures, and the federal government had to intervene (some argue too late).
Record and results
Several readers seemed puzzled at why Mr. Pruitt would want to run a federal regulatory agency if he saw federal regulations as a problem, and wondered if he had other ideas for how to regulate pollutants. Some also would like to hear examples of success on environmental issues from his time in office in Oklahoma.
Mark Baker, 48, an American who works for Diageo, an international beverage company, in Brussels, asked, “Can you provide an example of a policy that originated at the state or local level under your watch in Oklahoma and that resulted in cleaner water or air for Oklahoma’s citizens?”
“Do you believe in protecting water, air and land from pollution?” wrote Sabina Gasper, 55, who works for the pharmaceutical industry in Bismarck, N.D. “Do you believe that regulations are the way to do this? If not, how should these resources be protected?”
Some struck a more hopeful tone, like Lilian Howard, “nearing 80 years of age,” a retired travel consultant and writer from Virginia Beach, who wrote, “Would you briefly discuss a few actions by the E.P.A. which you believe were successful in protecting the American people and their natural surroundings from harm and how you might hope we can improve upon these during the new administration?”