– Scott Pruitt confirmed as EPA head in vote along party lines
– Vote came days before release of emails between Pruitt and oil and gas companies
– President Donald Trump has said the EPA makes it “impossible for our country to compete.”
The U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, putting the former Oklahoma attorney general in a position to carry out President Trump’s promise to severely cut back an agency he says makes it “impossible for our country to compete.”
The Senate voted 52-46 in favor of Pruitt, largely along party lines, with one Republican defecting, Susan Collins of Maine, and two Democrats in favor: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, two states with substantial coal industries. The Republicans didn’t even need the vote of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who skipped the vote to travel to a conference in Munich.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pressed ahead with the vote against the objections of Democrats who wanted to delay the vote until the release of 3,000 emails detailing correspondence between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies. In 2014, a New York Times investigation showed that lobbyists for oil and gas companies were drafting letters for Pruitt to send from his office, and that those companies were some of Pruitt’s largest campaign contributors.
The Center for Media and Democracy sued Pruitt in 2015 to release the emails, and an Oklahoma judge ruled in favor of the suit this week and ordered the emails’ release on Tuesday.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., called the fast-tracked vote “an epic ram-job.”
“The public has a right to know what is in all of those emails,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “They have a right to know what the record is of the chief protector of the environment in the United States.”
With Trump and Vice President Mike Pence out of town, Pruitt will have to wait until next week to be sworn in. At that time the president is expected to sign multiple executive orders scaling back Obama-era climate change initiatives and limiting the agency’s authority. An unnamed Trump administration official told Inside EPA that the orders would “suck the air out of the room.”
As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times on behalf of oil and gas interests based in his state and issued more than 50 press releases celebrating lawsuits to overturn EPA standards. At his confirmation hearings earlier this month, he conceded he could not think of a single EPA regulation he supported. “There has never been a nominee for EPA administrator opposed so strongly by environmental and public health advocates, scientists, and hundreds of current and former EPA officials,” said Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group president, in a statement.
Pruitt will face a hostile environment at the agency he’s charged to lead. Nearly 800 present and former EPA officials have signed a letter opposing Pruitt; many have also taken it upon themselves to call U.S. senators to voice their disapproval.