Senate confirms Scott Pruitt for EPA chief amid last-minute drama

The Senate voted Friday to confirm Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to delay the vote after a judge ruled that Pruitt must release about 3,000 emails relating to his communication with oil, gas and coal companies while he served as Oklahoma's attorney general.

The vote was 52-46 to confirm Pruitt. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine voted against Pruitt's confirmation. Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined the rest of the Republicans in voting to approve him.

An Oklahoma judge ruled late Thursday that Pruitt must turn over the first batch of emails by Tuesday, followed by the rest several days later. The Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group, had asked the court to order the release of Pruitt's emails under the state's open records law.

But Republican leaders made it clear Friday morning that they intended to proceed with a confirmation vote.

"If it wasn't one thing, it'd be another," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "The effort (by Democrats) has been to delay the nominations they have made controversial as long as possible in order to play to their left-wing base that will not accept the results of last year's election ... They want to give their left-wing agitators enough time to get up and get organized."

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said Democrats weren't trying to delay the vote just for delay's sake.

"I have no interest in obstructing," Carper said. "I want the truth."

Democrats said Republicans may regret pushing through Pruitt's nomination once they see the emails.

"The majority leader is putting Republicans in an awful spot," said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., made a motion to extend debate on Pruitt's nomination for an additional 248 hours, until 9 p.m. on Feb. 27, to give senators a chance to read the first batch of Pruitt's emails. Republicans defeated that motion, which took place immediately before the confirmation vote.

Most Democrats and environmental groups are fiercely opposed to Pruitt, who has often sued the EPA as Oklahoma's attorney general to block clean air and water regulations from being enforced. They also have questioned his close ties to the fossil fuel industry, which has donated to Pruitt's various political action committees.

But Republican leaders have cheered Pruitt as someone who can strike a balance between protecting the environment and ensuring that economic growth isn't slowed by onerous regulations.

"The EPA's overreaching regulations have stunted job growth," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "Mr. Pruitt is committed to protecting the environment ... while also supporting a strong economy."

Collins was the sole GOP senator to join with Democrats in opposing Pruitt.

"I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions," Collins said. "His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency's critical mission to protect human health and the environment."

But Heitkamp said some of the EPA's clean air and water regulations have been overly burdensome on North Dakotans, and she said she was willing to give Pruitt a chance to make things better.

"Once Mr. Pruitt is confirmed to lead EPA, 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," said Heitkamp, who represents farmers and coal miners who she believes would be hurt by the environmental regulations. "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."

USA TODAY


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