Scott Pruitt, the conservative Oklahoma attorney general who made a career of suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) largely on behalf of the oil and gas industry, narrowly won Senate confirmation on Friday to head the very agency he has long attempted to bring to its knees in battles over clean air and global warming issues.
By voting 52 to 46 along mostly party lines, the Republican-controlled Senate narrowly approved President Trump’s choice of Pruitt as the new EPA director in what environmental leaders view as a cruel joke. At a time when global leaders fear that it may soon be too late to do anything to reverse climate change, Trump is bringing in a wily lawyer who shares in his skepticism of global warming science with marching orders to begin to dismantle the agency.
“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, president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. “For the first time in the history of the EPA, Senate Republicans have installed one of the agency’s most strident opponents to run it – someone who has fought tooth-and-nail against the agency’s public health and environmental safeguards.”
Pruitt, 48, is a former state senator and unsuccessful candidate for Oklahoma lieutenant governor. As state attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA at least 14 times – frequently in coordination with major fossil fuel companies. He is widely viewed as the chief architect of the assault against former President Barack Obama’s climate change policies that were aimed at sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s aging power plants and manufacturing plants.
Pruitt also shares in Trump’s conviction that the federal government has overstepped its bounds in pressing for ever-tougher air standards that add billions of dollars to the operating costs of industry. He has frequently argued that much of the EPA’s clean air regulatory authority should be shifted to the states.
Now the fox has been put in charge of the hen house, triggering major protests not only by environmental groups and Democrats but by scores of career government workers at the EPA throughout the country who called their senators in an effort to block Pruitt’s confirmation, as The New York Times reported yesterday.
Typically, career employees maintain a low profile during the transfer of power to a new administration, with the understanding that policy changes are inevitable and that they must roll with the punches. But the outpouring of opposition to Pruitt from EPA scientists, lawyers and others in the agency is extraordinary, according to the Times, and signals that civil war could break out if Pruitt seeks to dismantle the core mission of the EPA.
Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican New Jersey governor and EPA commissioner under President George W. Bush, told the newspaper that “What it means is that it’s going to be a bloodbath when Pruitt gets in there.”
Environmentalists have long complained about Pruitt’s close ties with the oil and gas industry. He has received more than $300,000 from oil and gas companies during his campaigns over the years, according to The Washington Post. He also headed the Republican Attorneys General Association, which garnered generous contributions from Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and other companies.
Even as Senate Republicans moved towards confirming Pruitt over the strong objections of environmental groups and Democrats, an Oklahoma judge on Thursday ordered Pruitt to hand over thousands of emails related to his communications with the fossil fuel industry. The Center for Media and Democracy has for the past two years sought those emails in attempting to document the link between Pruitt and the oil and gas industry.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and other Democrats urged the GOP leadership to delay a final vote on confirmation until after a one-week recess in order to see what emerges from the emails. But Senate Republicans rejected what they viewed as another stalling tactic by the Democrats and pressed ahead to confirm Pruitt’s nomination.
“Attorney General Pruitt has been more thoroughly vetted than any nominee for EPA administrator,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement. “It is time to confirm him.”