In a final 52–46 vote, the Senate on Friday confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The vote was mostly along party lines. Every Republican present except Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted for Pruitt (Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.] did not vote because he is at a military conference in Germany). All Democrats except West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkemp voted against him.

The Senate confirmed Pruitt even though an Oklahoma state court ordered Pruitt’s office to turn over more than 2,500 emails with coal, gas, and oil corporations that his office had withheld despite open records requests that had been outstanding for more than 740 days. Democrats had sought to delay today’s vote, suggesting the emails could help uncover information needed to understand whether the attorney general engaged with industries that he will be responsible for regulating as EPA administrator.

Scott Pruitt will be sworn in as the Environmental Protection Agency's administrator on February 17.
Scott Pruitt will be sworn in as the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator on February 17.

Republicans on the Senate environment committee approved Pruitt’s nomination on February 2 despite a boycott by Democrats, suspending a rule that required at least two members of the minority party be present for the vote.

Pruitt’s nomination had been fiercely opposed by environmental groups, which claim Pruitt is a climate denier and has corporate ties with the energy industry.

“Scott Pruitt is now set to be the most dangerous EPA Administrator in the history of our country,” lamented the Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune. “Pruitt has taken millions of dollars from corporate polluters, and has protected their interests at every turn—yet, he is now in charge of protecting our children from the dirty air and toxic water created by these very same polluters. Pruitt has a long record of ignoring science, assaulting public health safeguards, and holding the agency he now leads in contempt. His confirmation is an environmental and public health disaster.”

Brune added that the environmental group’s 2.7 million members and supporters would “continue to mobilize and resist this corrupt administration’s attacks on public health, clean air, and clean water every step of the way.”

The World Resources Institute (WRI), a global environmental research organization, expressed similar concerns: “EPA must be able to continue its crucial role in reducing the dangerous pollution that causes climate change. Congress and the Supreme Court have affirmed EPA’s obligation to protect Americans from climate change and its dangerous impacts,” said Andrew Steer, WRI president and CEO.

“As EPA administrator, Pruitt needs to stop politicizing science and undermining the measures that protect Americans.”

Industry groups, on the other hand, seemed pleased with Pruitt’s confirmation. Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn congratulated Pruitt, though he stressed the association that represents every investor-owned electric company in the U.S. will “continue to advocate for policies that maintain a diverse and balanced energy mix, which is critical to the reliable, affordable electricity our customers expect.”

Paul Bailey, who is president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an organization that was fiercely critical of air and water rules finalized by the EPA under the Obama administration, said: “We are pleased the Senate has confirmed Mr. Pruitt to be the next EPA Administrator. He will make an exceptional head of EPA. Under his leadership, we expect EPA to return to sensible policies that both protect the environment and recognize the need for reliable and affordable coal-based electricity. “

The Center for Media and Democracy, which had sued the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office for withholding emails with industry for more than two years, said: “Despite Pruitt’s repeated attempts to cover up his ties to deep-pocketed corporations and special interest groups, our work to pull back the curtain continues so that voters and communities can have the information they need to hold him accountable to their health and safety.”

 

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)