Senate confirms Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead EPA
WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency Republicans desperately want to rein in after what they charge was eight years of dangerous activism under the Obama administration that hurt businesses, jobs and the economy.
Pruitt may be just the person to do it. As Oklahoma attorney general, he sued the agency many times in that pursuit and has vowed to curb the EPA’s regulatory reach once in office.
“He’s exceptionally qualified,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He’s dedicated to environmental protection. And, as someone with state government experience, he understands the real-world consequences of EPA actions and knows that balance is the key to making policies that are sustainable over the long-term.”
The 12:30 p.m. Senate vote comes a day after a federal judge ruled the Oklahoma attorney general’s office must turn over thousands of emails related to Pruitt’s communications with fossil fuel companies, which have a large presence in the state.
Environmental activists and many Democrats wanted to delay the confirmation vote until those emails are released — probably sometime next week — but Republicans had no interest in a delay, especially after Democrats deliberately slow-walked the confirmation process for many of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
“This transparency is essential to fair consideration of Pruitt’s nomination,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, a vocal Pruitt critic. “This is an egregious cover up that must not stand.”
In a last fit of protest, Democrats kept the Senate in session overnight so they could make speeches about their concerns with Pruitt and his close ties to the oil and gas industry.
At a press conference Friday, Merkley repeated calls to delay the vote. He said the first batch of emails will be released on Tuesday, with a second batch released on February 26. The scanned documents will be transferred to the Center for Media and Democracy, then the Senate will get copies. So Democrats originally requesting the vote be postponed until March 3, but that request was denied.
Democrats looked to extend debate until February 27, when they return from recess, a motion that was defeated.
In an extraordinary lobbying blitz against Pruitt, the labor union that represents EPA employees urged their members to call senators and urge them to vote against Pruitt.
Pruitt was confirmed on a largely party line vote with just three senators crossing over.
Democratic senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who both the represent energy producing states, voted for him. While moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine voted against.
The Senate is scheduled to begin a week long recess after votes Friday and will return to confirm more Cabinet nominees when they return.
Following Pruitt’s confirmation, an Oklahoma senator and an oil and gas group applauded the vote.
“Scott Pruitt will be an outstanding Administrator of the EPA. Rather than twist environmental laws to invent new powers for the EPA, Scott will enforce existing law and ensure that we protect the environment, and also protect family budgets. The federal government must improve efficiencies across agencies, especially the agency that ensures clean air, clean drinking water, and a healthy environment. Scott will do this job well, and I look forward to continuing our work together for the future of the nation as he leads the EPA,” Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said.
“We are proud to have an Oklahoman confirmed with bipartisan support by the U.S. Senate to serve our nation in Washington,” said Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. “Scott Pruitt will welcome all stakeholders to the table as the EPA provides support to the states in ensuring clean air and clean water for its citizens. We look forward to supporting his vision of a nation that is pro-energy and pro-environment.”
“I’m glad the Senate acted to confirm Scott Pruitt as administrator of the EPA today,” said Congressman Frank Lucas. “His confirmation is a major step toward restoring common sense and rule of law at the agency. Scott has a strong understanding of the critical role states play in the regulatory process and the importance of sound science in policymaking. I look forward to working with him to protect our country’s precious natural resources while ensuring American families have access to affordable energy and good paying jobs.”