Today the Senate voted 52-46 to approve President Trump’s nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the EPA. Upon being sworn in, Pruitt will take the helm of an Agency he sued at least 12 times as AG, primarily alleging that the EPA issued rules that exceeded the Agency’s authority under federal environmental laws and/or the U.S. Constitution.
Since being nominated by the president and especially since his January 18, 2017, hearing before the Senate and Environmental and Public Works Committee (EPW), the majority of Democrats in the Senate have spoken passionately against Pruitt, citing his apparent animosity toward the Agency, his alleged receipt or redirection of funding from the oil and gas industry, and his failure at the hearing to provide answers about any relationships with the industry that Democrats found satisfactory.
Court order on emails
In a last minute development that increased the pre-vote drama, a judge in the Oklahoma County Court told the state’s Attorney General office that it had until Tuesday, February 21, 2017, to release thousands of emails the office exchanged with officials in the O&G industry, the coal industry, and utilities during Pruitt’s tenure. The Center for Media and Democracy had been trying for several years to obtain about 3,000 such emails under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act. So far the AG’s office has released about 400 emails, which, according to the judge, constitutes an “abject failure” to abide by the state law.
“Despite my repeated warnings, the majority insists on forcing Mr. Pruitt through the Senate without complete information,” said Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), EPW’s Ranking Member. “It is regrettable that they refuse to wait for the release of these documents before voting on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination. If we are going to do the job that the American people sent us here to do, we must carefully review this new information in order to better evaluate just what kind of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt would be.”
A motion to extend debate on Pruitt’s nomination until February 27, 2017, to provide time to review the emails was narrowly defeated.
Pruitt “thoroughly vetted”
Speaking before the Senate vote, EPW Chair Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) emphasized that small business and agricultural organizations have voiced support for Pruitt. These groups include the National Federation of Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Home Builders, and the American Farm Bureau Federation. Further, said Barrasso, Pruitt had done more than enough to provide EPA and the entire Senate with the information it needs to vote.
“Our committee thoroughly vetted Mr. Pruitt,” said Barrasso. “We held a confirmation hearing that lasted more than six hours. That is by far the longest confirmation hearing for an EPA administrator on record. During this hearing, Attorney General Pruitt was asked more than 200 questions by members of the committee. We had four rounds of questions, it’s an unprecedented number. Our Democratic colleagues on the committee noted during the hearing how fair the process was. They said how much they appreciated the opportunity to ask so many questions. “After the hearing, committee members submitted another 1,078 written questions to Mr. Pruitt to answer for the record. Again, that’s the most for a nominee to be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, ever. His answers were thoughtful, and they were thorough.”
The 52 votes favoring Pruitt included those by two Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND.) Maine’s Senator Susan Collins was the lone Republican opposing Pruitt. Collins noted that some of the rules Pruitt litigated against, including those to control mercury pollution from power plants and interstate air pollution, are important to Maine’s environment and the health of its people.