WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2017 (ENS) – Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt today won Senate confirmation to head the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the federal agency he has sued multiple times during the Obama administration in attempts to limit its control of industry.
Upon his confirmation, Pruitt tweeted, “I will work tirelessly to ensure that the EPA acts lawfully, sensibly, and with those hardworking Americans ever in mind.”
The Senate voted 52-46 mainly along party lines to confirm President Donald Trump’s choice to head the agency in charge of keeping America clean.
As EPA Administrator Pruitt will be responsible for ensuring the safety of America’s air and water, repairing aging water lines and treatment plants, cleaning up hazardous waste sites, and enforcing environmental laws and regulations that help protect precious natural resources.
Two Democrats voted to confirm Pruitt: Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. One Republican voted against Pruitt, Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Two senators did not vote: Democratic Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Republican John McCain of Arizona.
Pruitt won confirmation despite strenuous calls from Senate Democrats to delay the vote at least until Tuesday, February 21.
On that date, a Federal District Court judge in Oklahoma has ordered that the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office release thousands of emails between Pruitt and the oil and gas industry, the coal industry and the utility industry.
The Center for Media and Democracy filed suit against Pruitt for improperly withholding public records and Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons ordered his office to release the emails on February 21.
In an attempt to stave off the Senate vote until those documents are released and can be reviewed to determine Pruitt’s fitness for the post, Senate Democrats held the floor for 30 hours.
U.S. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said on the Senate floor, Thursday, “Throughout my years in the Senate and as member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I have had the opportunity to consider the credentials of five different nominees to serve as EPA Administrator – individuals put forth by both Democratic and Republican Presidents.
“I have supported candidates of both parties in the past because they were able to clearly demonstrate their commitment to advancing the mission of the EPA – to protect human health and the environment,” said Carper.
During the Environment and Public Works Committee hearings to consider Pruitt’s nomination, Carper said that when asked to name any EPA regulation on the books today that he supports, “Pruitt could not name a single one.”
“In the hearing, I asked Mr. Pruitt three times if he thought mercury and air toxic emissions should be regulated from power plants. In the hearing, he responded three times in a vague way that seemed to imply that he supported such action. But his past actions tell a different story,” Carper warned.
Carper pointed out that just two months before his hearing before the committee, Pruitt joined a legal brief with one of the largest coal companies in the country arguing the benefits of cleaning up mercury and air toxic emissions from power plants are “too speculative” and therefore, not necessary.
“Never have I been forced to consider a candidate to lead the EPA who appears to have been so focused, throughout his career, on crippling the agency he now seeks to lead or so hostile to the basic protections that keep Americans and our environment safe,” the Delaware senator said.
“This is the first time, in my memory, that an individual has been asked to lead an agency that he has sued over 20 times, with many of those cases still pending in the courts and creating serious conflicts of interest,” Carper said. “In fact, Mr. Pruitt – the attorney for the people of Oklahoma – has actually sided against his constituents’ public health nearly every time.”
“As a result,” said Carper, “we should ask whether he can serve as EPA Administrator for all Americans – not just the ones with powerful corporations with millions of dollars of revenue – but the middle-class mothers and fathers who are working hard every day to raise healthy children.”
On the Republican side, applause for Pruitt’s confirmation was loud and clear.
Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and former chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called Pruitt “a highly qualified, principled man, and will make an exceptional EPA Administrator.”
“I have known Scott for many years and have been privileged to work with him in his role as Oklahoma Attorney General. He understands the need for balance – something the EPA has been lacking for far too long as evidenced by the federal overreach, unlawful rule making, and duplicative red tape under the last administration,” said Inhofe.
“Pruitt will restore balance to the agency by simply upholding the laws passed by Congress, nothing more and nothing less, said Inhofe. “I have no doubt that Scott will return the EPA to its core objectives as a regulatory agency, prioritizing the environment without harming state and private interests.”
Senate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a deep coal state, voted with Republicans to confirm Pruitt, promising to hold the new EPA administrator to account for his decisions.
“As a former Governor,” said Manchin, “I understand how crucial it is for an executive leader to have the chance to put his team in place. Every West Virginian wants clean air and clean water and I intend to be vigilant in working with Administrator Pruitt to ensure that our fundamental environmental protections are implemented in a sound and effective way. I believe that the economy and the environment can be balanced and work in harmony.”
The other Senate Democrat to support Pruitt was Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota, a shale-oil and biofuel producing state.
“I’ll work to make sure EPA focuses on smart regulation and works with states and local communities to address issues like the unworkable Waters of the U.S. rule and the punitive final Clean Power Plan rules,” Heitkamp said.
“Though I have concerns about his commitment to a comprehensive energy strategy that includes renewables and his commitment to reduce emissions to protect our air and water, I’ll work to hold Pruitt accountable and make sure North Dakota’s interests are heard – just as I held the previous EPA administrator accountable.”
“I’ll also push Pruitt to meet statutory requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard, which I pressed him on during a meeting last month given how important a robust RFS is for North Dakota farmers and biofuels workers.”
Texas Democrat Senator Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ranking Member of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, is not a Pruitt fan and will be keeping a wary eye on his actions. “Mr. Pruitt is unfit to be the leader of EPA, the agency charged with protecting public health and the environment – and the very agency he has spent his career opposing.”
Environmentalists are solidly opposed to Pruitt’s confirmation.
“Pruitt is a climate denier and Big Oil crony who has spent his career suing the agency he’ll now lead,” said Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist with Friends of the Earth.
“I won’t sugarcoat it: It’s a blow to the agency and the laws that protect our air, our water, and the health of our families – and it will only make our jobs harder,” warned Anna Aurilio, federal legislative director with Environment America.
“But we won’t stand down,” Aurilio said. “We’re determined to defend our hard-won clean air and water laws and our global commitments to address climate change.”
And finally, the EPA employees have expressed their opinion through their union. J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 9,000 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, said, “EPA’s workforce is smaller today than it was in 1999, despite a significant growth in responsibilities. Starving this vital agency of the resources it needs to carry out its important work threatens the health and safety of all Americans.”
In view of President Trump’s early order to federal government scientists, including those at the EPA, not to share their work or communicate with the media or federal lawmakers, Cox said, “The biologists, scientists, lab technicians, engineers, and other civil servants who work at the EPA must be able to do their jobs without political interference or fear of retribution.”
“Ensuring the independence of our career civil servants at EPA and all federal agencies is an essential part of our democratic government,” said Cox, “and something that we will fight to maintain.”
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