Senate poised to confirm EPA nominee Scott Pruitt despite a renewed court battle
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is facing a new court order Friday.
An Oklahoma district court judge Thursday ordered Pruitt, the state’s attorney general, to turn over thousands of communications with major coal, oil and gas companies from his time in office.
The nonprofit watchdog Center for Media and Democracy had requested the public records two years ago, and the judge ruled there had been an “unreasonable” delay in responding to the request, demanding that Pruitt comply by the end of the day Monday.
By then, he will likely have been sworn into his new role in Washington.
The Senate is expected to vote on his nomination this afternoon after Democratic senators expressed outrage overnight that Republicans were going ahead as scheduled, despite the judge’s ruling.
Democrats pushed Pruitt during his confirmation hearing last month about whether he used a private email account for state business and had turned over all of those messages. They say the records could prove improper connections. For years Pruitt has been accused of siding with oil and energy companies in exchange for campaign donations, which he denied at his hearing.
Asked by one senator whether he solicited money from a number of energy companies while attorney general, Pruitt said he “attended fundraising events as an attorney general along with other attorneys general” and denied asking several energy companies for money.
He also said he worked to represent the “voices of all Oklahomans,” including the energy industry that has a major role in his state.
Before Thursday’s news of the court ruling, one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, had already vowed to vote against Pruitt. Another, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was reportedly planning to skip the vote.
But two Democrats — Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have said they plan to vote for the controversial nominee, giving him the votes he needs.
Pruitt has faced fierce opposition from the country’s leading environmental organizations since his nomination was announced in December.
He has spent much of his career suing the EPA — 14 times in total — over clean water regulations, limits on carbon pollution from power plants, and new standards for mercury and other air toxins. Pruitt describes himself on his website as a leading advocate against the “activist” agenda of the EPA.
Michael Brune¸ executive director of the environmental Sierra Club, said his organization, 2.7 million members strong, was prepared to fight the incoming administration in court and push environmentally minded reforms in the marketplace if Pruitt is confirmed.
“He is unfit to serve in this position,” Brune told ABC News last month. “He is dangerous to the EPA.
“We will hold Scott Pruitt accountable to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, which are both bipartisan legislation,” Brune said.
Brune accused Pruitt of lacking the “basic knowledge” to head the agency tasked with keeping the country’s environment safe and clean.
Republicans, though, have stood by Pruitt. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., congratulated him on the nomination and immediately offered his support.
“The EPA is the poster child for agencies in need of immediate reform and Scott has the resume and energy to turn this bureaucracy around,” he wrote in a statement. “I’m confident he will work to find reasonable solutions rather than simply working to grow the reach and power of the federal bureaucracy.”
Nearly 450 former EPA officials wrote to Congress last week urging Senators to vote against Pruitt Friday.
In the letter, the former government officials wrote, in part, “every EPA Administrator has a fundamental obligation to act in the public’s interest based on current law and the best available science. Mr. Pruitt’s record raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date and whether he agrees with the longstanding tenets of U.S. environmental law.”
Even current employees at the EPA have been protesting his nomination, with the union president of the American Federation of Government Employees National Council of EPA Locals No. 238 telling ABC News he is bracing for large-scale budget rollbacks.
But Pruitt praised the work of staff at the agency in his prepared opening remarks at the confirmation hearing.
“It will be my absolute privilege to work with the thousands of dedicated public servants at EPA who have devoted their careers to helping realize this shared goal,” he said.
“I’ve always said that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life, and I know those who work at EPA do so because of their tireless dedication to what they do.”
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