Senate Confirms Scott Pruitt as E.P.A. Head

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt on Friday to run the Environmental Protection Agency, putting a seasoned legal opponent of the agency at the helm of President Trump’s efforts to dismantle major regulations on climate change and clean water — and to cut the size and authority of the government’s environmental enforcer.

Senators voted 52 to 46 to confirm Mr. Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has built a career out of suing to block the E.P.A.’s major environmental rules and has called for the dissolution of much of the agency’s authority. One Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, crossed party lines to vote against Mr. Pruitt, while two Democrats, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, both from coal-rich states where voters generally oppose environmental rules, voted for him.

Democrats railed all night on the Senate floor against Mr. Pruitt and urged Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to delay the confirmation vote until after next Tuesday, when the Oklahoma attorney general’s office is under order to release about 3,000 of Mr. Pruitt’s emails related to his communications with the fossil fuel industry.

But the effort did little but deprive Democrats of sleep.

Democrats, environmental groups and even current E.P.A. employees have harshly criticized Mr. Pruitt’s record of fighting the mission of the agency he will now lead, as well as his close ties with the fossil fuel industry he will now regulate. Both opponents and supporters of Mr. Pruitt’s say he is well positioned to carry out Mr. Trump’s campaign trail promises to dismantle the agency and slash its ranks of employees. Mr. Trump vowed to “get rid” of the agency “in almost every form.”

A 2014 investigation by The Times found that energy lobbyists drafted letters for Mr. Pruitt to send, on state stationery, to the E.P.A., outlining the economic hardship of the environmental rules. Many of the coal, oil and gas companies represented by those lobbyists were also some his largest campaign contributors. Mr. Pruitt also worked jointly with those companies in filing multiple lawsuits against major E.P.A. regulations.

Democrats say the emails to be released on Tuesday could reveal more, and possibly disqualifying, information about those relationships.

“I reminded my colleagues that the release of these documents could be imminent and that we would be wise wait to vote on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination until we had the opportunity to review them — and shame on us if we didn’t,” said Senator Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“Mr. Pruitt has been nominated by a man who, as a nominee, as a president-elect and now as president, has made clear his goals to degrade and destroy the E.P.A.,” Mr. Carper said. “Like many things President Trump says, we ask ourselves, ‘Did he mean it?’ With the nomination of Mr. Pruitt, it’s clear he did.”

For many Republicans, that appears to be part of Mr. Pruitt’s appeal. During the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell became a leading opponent of the president’s climate change agenda, particularly its centerpiece, a set of E.P.A. regulations intended to shut down heavily polluting coal-fired power plants and replace them with wind and solar power. Those rules, if enacted, could disproportionately hurt the economy of Mr. McConnell’s coal-rich state.

Mr. Pruitt, who has expressed skepticism about human-caused global warming, has been a key architect of the legal battle to overturn the rules.

“Pruitt is just the candidate we need at the helm of the E.P.A.,” Mr. McConnell said. “He’s exceptionally qualified. He’s dedicated to environmental protection. And, as someone with state government experience, he understands the real-world consequences of E.P.A. actions and knows that balance is the key to making policies that are sustainable over the long-term.”

Mr. McConnell added: “We should confirm him. Doing so will represent another positive change in Washington that can give hope to families in Kentucky and across the nation who are still recovering from the last eight years.”

Within days of Mr. Pruitt’s swearing-in, Mr. Trump is expected to sign one or more executive orders aimed at undoing Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, people familiar with the White House’s plans said.

While it will be impossible to undo the rules immediately, the presidential signatures would give Mr. Pruitt his marching orders to commence the one- to two-year legal process of withdrawing the Obama-era climate rules and replacing them with looser, more industry-friendly rules. It is also possible that under Mr. Pruitt, the Trump administration could pursue the bold legal strategy of challenging the underlying legal requirement that the federal government regulate planet-warming greenhouse gases in the first place.

Already, Mr. Pruitt has begun work to reshape the environmental agency. Among the candidates he has interviewed for top positions are several former senior staff members in the office of his fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James M. Inhofe, who has become known as Congress’s most prominent denier of the science of global warming.

Scott Pruitt at his confirmation hearing to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Scott Pruitt confirmed as EPA head despite failure to release emails

Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, has won Senate confirmation to head the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal agency he repeatedly sued to rein in its reach during the Obama administration.

The vote on Friday was 52-46 as Republican leaders used their party’s narrow Senate majority to push Pruitt’s confirmation despite calls from Democrats to delay the vote until requested emails are released next week.

EPA fears 'unprecedented disaster' for environment over Scott Pruitt pick

As part of a public records lawsuit, a state judge in Oklahoma on Thursday ordered Pruitt to release thousands of emails that he exchanged with oil and gas executives by Tuesday. Pruitt has refused to release the emails for more than two years.

Democrats boycotted a committee vote on Pruitt’s nomination last month, citing his refusal to hand over the emails, and on Friday called on the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to delay Pruitt’s confirmation vote until the nominee turned over the thousands of requested emails from his time as attorney general.

The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, tried to draw a direct line between Pruitt’s withheld emails and last year’s demands from Donald Trump and congressional Republicans during the presidential campaign.

“Emails! Remember emails?” Schumer asked on the Senate floor. “‘We should get them out!’ they said about Hillary Clinton … If they weren’t worried about them, then why rush?”

To dramatize their cause, Senate Democrats kept the Senate in session through the night with a series of speeches opposing his confirmation. Democrats were still marching to the floor at daybreak.

As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt filed 14 lawsuits challenging EPA regulations. He joined a multi-state lawsuit opposing the Obama administration’s plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt also sued over the EPA’s recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the Clean Water Act. It has been opposed by industries that would be forced to clean up polluted wastewater.

“There’s a hungry fox guarding the henhouse at our Environmental Protection Agency,” said Donna Brazile, the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, in a statement. “Pruitt is worse than unqualified – he’s openly hostile to the idea of protecting our environment. The devastating consequences of this appointment may be felt for generations to come.”

Trump has tapped some of the wealthiest Americans to serve in his cabinet, and ethics reviews have slowed the confirmation process. So have Senate Democrats, who have mostly opposed all the nominees and forced hours of debate.

So far, the Senate has confirmed 14 out of 22 Trump cabinet or cabinet-level picks requiring confirmation.

Pruitt’s nomination was strongly opposed by environmental groups and hundreds of former EPA employees, who predict he would roll back the agency’s environmental enforcement efforts. During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump’s past statements that global warming is a hoax. However, Pruitt has previously cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and manmade carbon emissions are to blame.

The 48-year-old Republican is closely aligned in his home state with oil and gas companies, whose executives have backed his political campaigns. Though Pruitt ran unopposed for a second term in 2014, public campaign finance reports show he raised more than $700,000, much of it from people in the energy and utility industries.

The Center for Media and Democracy filed multiple public records requests for Pruitt’s emails to coal, oil and gas corporations going back to 2015. It sued him last week.

In a hearing on Thursday, Oklahoma district court judge Aletia Haynes Timmons concluded “there really is no reasonable explanation” for why Pruitt’s office had not complied with the request for his emails. Timmons ordered Pruitt to turn over the records by Tuesday and to comply with other open records requests by the group in 2015 and 2016 within 10 days.

Pruitt’s office said about 400 documents were turned over on 10 February, but Timmons said more than 3,000 had been withheld.


Who is Scott Pruitt, the new EPA head?

On Friday, the US Senate voted 52–48 to confirm Scott Pruitt as the 14th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. His nomination and subsequent confirmation surprised many political pundits, given that the former Oklahoma attorney general has long waged legal battles against the federal agency that he now heads.

Pruitt's political career began in 1998, when he was elected to the Oklahoma Senate, representing Tulsa and Wagoner Counties. After eight years, during which time he served as both majority whip and the Republican assistant floor leader, Pruitt mounted an unsuccessful campaign to become the state's lieutenant governor in 2006, then was elected attorney general of Oklahoma in 2010.

During his tenure as Oklahoma's AG, Pruitt routinely went to war with the EPA. After entering office, he first dissolved the Environmental Protection Unit in the Attorney General's Office, arguing both that "a standalone unit was operationally inefficient" and that the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, rather than his office, should be responsible for implementing and enforcing environmental laws in the state. He then proceeded to sue the EPA a total of 14 times -- every one of them unsuccessfully -- between 2010 and 2016.

For instance, in 2012, his office sued the EPA over the agency's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which regulate the amount of mercury, cyanide and other pollutants that power plants can legally emit. More recently, he sued over the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which caps the amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that plants can expel. In 13 of these 14 cases, energy companies operating within the state were listed as co-parties to Pruitt's suits.

Pruitt is quite proud of his anti-EPA stance. His official bio page as Oklahoma AG states that he is a "leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda." And when he was not actively suing the EPA, Pruitt did little to hide his support for energy companies like Exxon and Devon Energy (or the $300,000 that they donated to his campaigns).

As the New York Times reports, he once dropped a state lawsuit against companies dumping pollutants into state waterways. Pruitt "has advocated and stood up for the profits of business," Mark Derichsweiler, of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, told the Times, "at the expense of people who have to drink the water or breathe the air."

Pruitt has also been party to scandal during his tenure as AG. In 2011, he received a drafted letter from Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma's biggest oil and gas companies, transcribed it to his official letterhead and submitted it to the EPA as an official complaint from his office, a move categorized by the Times as an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" between Pruitt and industry. "That's actually called representative government in my view of the world," Pruitt said in his defense.

"Scott Pruitt represents what we environmental lawyers call an 'imminent and substantial endangerment' to our health and environment," Ellen Spitalnik, a former EPA attorney who served from 1980 to 2002, told Quartz. "He threatens the very integrity of EPA and must not be allowed to continue shutting down environmental enforcement, disregarding science, and putting private interests above public good."

Pruitt's confirmation hearings were not without scandal. He declined to specify whether he had submitted letters on behalf of companies related to the state's air quality crisis, which has seen the rate of childhood asthma spike in recent years. Currently one in ten Oklahoma children suffer from asthma, though Pruitt could not cite that figure when quizzed about it by Senator Cory Booker. Additionally, more than 800 current EPA employees signed a petition urging the Senate to vote him down.

Even the timing of his confirmation has raised eyebrows. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse called his vote "an epic ram job," given that Pruitt only recently released 3,000 emails he wrote to oil and gas companies as attorney general. These emails were ordered released by a state judge as part of a public records lawsuit two years ago, but Pruitt has been fighting to keep them under wraps. "Emails! Remember emails?" Senator Chuck Schumer asked during the confirmation hearings. "'We should get them out!' they said about Hillary Clinton ... If they weren't worried about them, then why rush?"

Now that he has been confirmed, Pruitt is expected to immediately sign orders that begin to roll back Obama-era protections. While the rules can't be repealed immediately, these initial actions set the stage for replacing the rules with more industry-friendly options within the next two years.

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