Pruitt OK’d as EPA Chief Over Environmentalists’ Objections

FILE – In this Jan. 18, 2017, file photo,Environmental Protection Agency Administrator nominee, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Senate Republicans are poised to use their majority to confirm Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, despite calls from Democrats for a delay.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(CN) — The Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday over the strenuous objections from environmental groups angered by his frequent lawsuits against the agency he will now lead and his adversarial stance on many issues they hold dear.

In six years as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt filed 14 lawsuits challenging EPA regulations that included limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

He also sued over the EPA’s recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Pruitt’s confirmation gives President Donald Trump an eager ally in his bid to roll back environmental regulations he believes stymie economic growth.

“EPA has made life hard for families all across America,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The agency has issued punishing regulations that caused many hardworking Americans to lose their jobs. Mr. Pruitt will bring much needed change.”

The vote was 52-46 as Republican leaders used their party’s narrow Senate majority to push Pruitt’s confirmation through this week.  Democrats had wanted to delay the vote until next week when documents they’ve requested on the nominee are scheduled to be released.

Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voted against Pruitt. Two Democrats from states dependent on fossil fuel and coal as the basis of their economies, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, voted in favor of the nominee.

Pruitt has expressed doubt about scientific evidence showing that the planet is heating up and that humans are to blame, though he backed off that position during his confirmation hearing.

Pruitt’s nomination was opposed by environmental groups and scores of current and former EPA employees, who believe he will gut the agency while dramatically scaling back on the regulations it enforces.

Democrats boycotted a committee vote on Pruitt’s nomination last month, citing his refusal to hand over thousands of emails that he exchanged with oil and gas executives. As part of a public records lawsuit, a state judge in Oklahoma on Thursday concluded there was no legal justification for Pruitt’s withholding his correspondence for the past two years. She ordered him to release most of the emails by next week.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to delay Pruitt’s confirmation vote for 10 days. Schumer, of New York, tried to draw a direct line between Pruitt’s withheld emails and last year’s demands from 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, Democrats kept the Senate in session Thursday night into Friday morning with speeches opposing Pruitt’s confirmation.

In the end, McConnell had the votes.

As of Friday afternoon, the Senate has confirmed 14 out of 22 Trump Cabinet or Cabinet-level picks requiring confirmation.

Environmental groups have already begun hiring additional lawyers to stymie as much of Pruitt’s agenda as possible in court.

“Scott Pruitt is the worst pick ever confirmed to lead the EPA,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We’ll use every tool in the kit to stop him from harming our air and water, endangering our communities and surrendering our kids to climate catastrophe.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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