After the Senate testimony concluded, Mr. Pruitt’s staff issued a statement attributed to him that said: “Now having the honor of working for him, it is abundantly clear that President Trump is the most consequential leader of our time. No one has done more to advance the rule of law than President Trump.”
It was not yet apparent how Mr. Trump, who prizes loyalty in his inner circle, reacted to the airing of the broadcast. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his leadership tenure at the E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt has often won praise from Mr. Trump as a key executor of the president’s aggressive efforts to roll back regulations on business and industry. Mr. Pruitt was among the most influential voices urging Mr. Trump to withdraw the country from the landmark Paris climate change agreement, making the United States only nation in the world not party to the accord.
In a sign of the high regard in which the president holds his E.P.A. chief, Mr. Trump has assigned Mr. Pruitt, rather than his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, to craft the legal tactics to implement that withdrawal.
Mr. Pruitt’s 2016 remarks appear sharply at odds with his tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, Mr. Trump issued multiple executive orders aimed at undoing environmental regulations on air, water and planet-warming pollution. Mr. Pruitt responded swiftly, drafting a list of legal proposals to undo those rules.
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However, on the 2016 radio show, Mr. Pruitt said, “This, if Donald Trump is the nominee and eventually the president, he would take, I think unapologetic steps, to use executive power to confront Congress in a way that is truly unconstitutional.”
Mr. Pruitt has come under criticism for the swiftness with which he has sought to undo those existing regulations, a multistep legal process that usually takes years, as well as for doing so in secrecy.
In an opening statement provided to senators on Tuesday, Mr. Pruitt stressed his commitment to process, rule of law and the Constitution. “E.P.A. will seek to improve its processes and reinvigorate the rule of law as it administers environmental regulations as Congress intended, and to refocus the agency on its core statutory obligations,” he said. “I am a firm believer that federal agencies exist to administer laws passed by Congress, as intended.”
Throughout the rest of Mr. Pruitt’s Senate testimony, Republicans heaped praise on him while Democrats hammered him for his push to strip away regulations.
Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said: “Mr. Pruitt, you often say that the rule of law matters. Well, Congress was very prescriptive when it wrote the Clean Air Act. The law sets timelines that E.P.A. must use to determine whether our country is meeting federal standards for harmful ozone pollution. But your E.P.A. has chosen to continuously ignore and delay that very specific mandate from Congress, which leaves downwind states and vulnerable communities at risk indefinitely.”
Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, the chairman of the environment panel, applauded Mr. Pruitt’s legal actions at the agency. “During the last administration, E.P.A. administrators created broad and legally questionable new regulations that undermined the American people’s faith in the agency,” he said. “These regulations have done great damage to the livelihoods of our nation’s hardest working citizens.”
Of Mr. Pruitt, Senator Barrasso said: “He has balanced the need to prioritize environmental protection with the desires of Americans to have thriving and economically sustainable communities. His leadership of E.P.A. is vastly different than that of his last two predecessors. Under the Obama administration, the agency had lost its way.”