WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency Republicans desperately want to rein in after what they charge was eight years of dangerous activism under the Obama administration that hurt businesses, jobs and the economy.
Pruitt maybe just the person to do it. As Oklahoma attorney general he sued the agency many times in that pursuit and has vowed to curb the EPA’s regulatory reach once in office.
The largely party line vote was 52-46.
Democratic senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who both represent energy producing states, voted for Pruitt. Moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine voted against him.
“He’s exceptionally qualified,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He’s dedicated to environmental protection. And, as someone with state government experience, he understands the real-world consequences of EPA actions and knows that balance is the key to making policies that are sustainable over the long-term.”
The vote came a day after a federal judge ruled the Oklahoma attorney general’s office must turn over thousands of emails related to Pruitt’s communications with fossil fuel companies, which have a large presence in his state.
Environmental activists and many Democrats pushed to delay the confirmation vote until those emails are released — probably sometime next week — but Republicans had no interest in a delay, especially after Democrats deliberately slow-walked the confirmation process for many of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
In a last fit of protest, Democrats kept the Senate in session overnight so they could make speeches about their concerns with Pruitt and his close ties to the oil and gas industry.
“Mr. Pruitt has extreme environmental policy views. And he has zero experience running an environmental protection agency. In fact, he does not believe in the fundamental mission of EPA,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico. “Attorney General Pruitt made his name opposing EPA rules that protect human health and the environment, fighting against clean air and clean water, disregarding the science behind the EPA’s protections for human health and the environment, on behalf of for-profit special interests, not the public interest.”
At a press conference Friday, Merkley said the first batch of emails will be released on Tuesday, with a second batch released on February 26. They scanned documents will be transferred to the Center for Media and Democracy, then the Senate will get copies. So Democrats originally requesting the vote be postponed until March 3, but that request was denied.
Democrats also lost a motion to extend debate until February 27, in a mostly party-line vote.
McConnell argued that Democrats were simply using stalling tactics. “The goal here is to feed the base, to give people a chance to get organized and complain and they want to have Pruitt out there over the recess so all of their supporters can come express themselves,” McConnell told reporters Friday.
In an extraordinary lobbying blitz against Pruitt, the labor union that represents EPA employees urged their members to call senators and urge them to vote against Pruitt.
The Senate is scheduled to begin a week long recess after votes Friday and will return to confirm more Cabinet nominees when they return.
Next up will be Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross, Interior nominee Ryan ZInke, Housing and Urban Development nominee Dr. Ben Carson, and Energy nominee Rick Perry.