Legal & Regulatory

Dems Boycott Pruitt Committee Vote, Perry, Zinke Proceed to Full Senate

Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are digging their heels in, refusing to allow a vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt’s nomination was due to come to a vote February 1, but when it came time to gavel in the meeting, none of the committee’s Democrats were there. Under committee rules, at least two members of the minority party must be in attendance for a vote to be held.

Republicans on the committee expressed disappointment that the Democrats wouldn’t show up, saying that Pruitt had been put through the ringer during his confirmation process, allegedly answering more questions than any other nominee for the role in recent history. “I hope this is not the new normal. We cannot afford for the EPA to go without an administrator for the foreseeable future,” committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said during the hearing.

Catherine McCabe, the former deputy regional administrator of the EPA’s Region 2 in New York City, is currently serving as acting administrator.

The committee Democrats were singing a different tune, saying before the hearing that while Pruitt may have been asked many questions, he didn’t answer them sufficiently. “The Committee Democrats are deeply concerned about the lack of thoroughness of Mr. Pruitt’s responses to our questions for the record. I share their concerns,” committee Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) wrote in a January 31 letter to Barrasso.

The nomination of Pruitt, which was announced in early December, was met with immediate backlash from Democrats and environmental advocates. Pruitt is no stranger to the EPA, at least not in court. The attorney general has sued the agency a number of times attempting to halt regulations. He is currently representing Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit in which 27 states and a number of allied groups are seeking to eliminate the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, carbon emission standards for existing coal-fired power plants.

During his January 18 confirmation hearing, committee Democrats pushed Pruitt on issues related to climate change, contributions made by fossil fuel interests to an organization Pruitt has been involved with, and his court record.

Perry and Zinke Sail Through Committee

Trump’s picks for the nation’s top energy and interior positions had a better week than Pruitt, cruising through committee votes January 31.

Trump’s pick for energy secretary, former Texas Governor, Rick Perry, easily passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee January 31 with a vote of 16–7.

Trump announced Perry’s nomination in mid-December, a pick that met immediate criticism from the left. Perry’s 2012 Republican presidential bid was derailed in part due to a televised debate gaffe in which he stated he would eliminate three federal agencies. He went on the name the Departments of Commerce and Education before faltering, forgetting the third agency. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said, adding later in the debate: “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”

Unsurprisingly, Perry has changed his tune on the department since being nominated to lead it by Trump, who Perry once called “a cancer on conservatism.” Meeting his 2012 gaffe head-on, Perry assured the committee during his January 19 confirmation hearing that he now believes the Department of Energy is a vital organization.

Also coming to a vote January 31 before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee was the nomination of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Trump’s pick for secretary of the interior. Zinke supports opening up the nation’s federal lands to energy production, vowing during his January 17 confirmation hearing to review a moratorium placed by the Obama administration on coal leasing on federal lands. Breaking from many of his Republican colleagues, Zinke vehemently opposes selling or transferring federal lands back to the states.

Zinke’s nomination gained approval in committee with a vote of 16–6.

Both Zinke and Perry are expected to be approved by the full Senate though it remains uncertain when the nominations will be picked up.


Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.

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