By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. senators on Wednesday delayed a committee vote on President Donald Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency after the panel's Democrats boycotted the meeting, saying that nominee Scott Pruitt doubts the science of climate change.
The boycott in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee delayed the transition to a new administrator for the agency. Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said he could not support Pruitt, a Republican and the attorney general of Oklahoma, for a public health position because he "denies the sum of empirical science and the urgency to act on climate change."
At a committee confirmation hearing last month Pruitt, who has sued the agency he intends to run more than a dozen times on behalf of the oil-drilling state Oklahoma, expressed doubt about climate change science.
But Pruitt said he would be would be obliged for now to uphold the agency's 2009 "endangerment finding" that carbon dioxide emissions harm public health. The finding is the agency's basis for regulations on those emissions.
Senator Tom Carper, the panel's top Democrat, said Pruitt had provided "woefully inadequate" answers to written questions and had not named one agency regulation that he supported.
"If Mr. Pruitt is serious about leading this important agency, he should be more than willing to provide straightforward answers to our fundamental questions," Carper said.
Republicans decried the move by the Democrats. "This is simply a senatorial temper tantrum," said Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska, another oil state.
Trump, like Republican Senator Jim Inhofe on the panel, has called climate change a hoax. Trump has promised to make changes at the agency including doing away with previous President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan that cracks down on emissions from coal-fired electricity generators. The plan was suspended by the Supreme Court last year.
John Konkus, a spokesman for Pruitt's confirmation team, said Democrats and the EPA under Obama had "put politics and rhetoric ahead of their core work and ahead of the welfare of the American public."
In 2013, Republican senators on the panel boycotted then- Obama's second term pick for the agency, Gina McCarthy, saying they were "completely unsatisfied" by her answers to more than 1,000 written questions they had asked her. She was eventually confirmed.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Bill Trott and Grant McCool)