The Senate voted Friday to confirm Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ushering in what are likely to be dramatic changes to the agency.
The 52-46 vote was almost along party lines. All Republicans except Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsCollins: I'm not working with Freedom Caucus chairman on healthcare Mexico: Recent deportations 'a violation' of US immigration rules White House denies misleading public in aircraft carrier mix-up MORE (R-Maine) voted for Pruitt, while all Democrats except Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPicking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Manchin: Trump should make his clothes in West Virginia Sanders supporter to run against red-state Democrat MORE (D-W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampBusiness groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Sanders supporter to run against red-state Democrat GOP lays out regulatory reform wish list MORE (D-N.D.) voted against him.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainBeyond Manafort: Both parties deal with pro-Russian Ukrainians With help from US, transformative change in Iran is within reach The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ariz.) did not vote due to a military conference he is attending in Germany. Sen. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyGOP rep to potential Senate rival: Don't run Trump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight Senate Dems target potential GOP candidates over ObamaCare repeal MORE (D-Ind.) also did not vote.
Pruitt’s confirmation came despite repeated pleas from Democrats to delay the vote due to ongoing litigation regarding emails that a liberal group had requested from the office of Pruitt, who is Oklahoma’s attorney general — a position he will leave when he is sworn in as EPA administrator.
Republicans said Pruitt will bring much-needed change to an agency that exemplifies eight years of executive overreach by the administration of former President Obama.
“The nominee before us ... thinks it’s time for the EPA to get back to the clean air and clean water business instead, and to do so with an appreciation for the complexity of our modern world,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Tech: Dem wants to see FCC chief's net neutrality plans | New agency panel on telecom diversity | Trump calls NASA astronaut Senate approves Trump's Agriculture chief Overnight Finance: Trump wants 15 percent corporate rate | GOP tax team huddles with Trump aides | Shutdown watch over border wall MORE (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor.
“He’s exceptionally qualified. 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.”
Democrats said Pruitt’s record of animosity toward Obama’s EPA — including filing more than a dozen lawsuits to block regulations — shows that he opposes the EPA’s most important functions, and that he is too friendly to the fossil fuel industry.
“This Trump administration has nominated as administrator at the EPA a tool of the fossil fuel industry, a man who demonstrably will not take his government responsibilities seriously because he never has,” said Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDem senators ask Bannon for more info about Breitbart contact Senate Dems want Trump to release ethics waivers, visitor logs Senators offer bill to boost police training in cyber crime MORE (D-R.I.) “He has never taken EPA's responsibility seriously. He has done nothing but sue them.”
Pruitt will be responsible for implementing an aggressive deregulatory campaign that Trump outlined on the campaign trail and that the GOP has long sought.
Trump promised to roll back Obama’s entire climate change agenda, including the Clean Power Plan, which sets carbon dioxide limits for power plants. He also pledged to repeal the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, which asserts federal power over small waterways like ponds and streams.
Trump said any new regulations will be judged on whether they benefit workers, and he would refocus the EPA’s mission on clean air and water.
At his confirmation hearing, Pruitt promised to take seriously the EPA’s mission, but also to improve cooperation with states and regulated parties.
“Regulators are supposed to make things regular, to fairly and equitably enforce the rules and not pick winners and losers,” Pruitt told senators.
“A regulator should not be for or against any sector of our economy. Instead, a regulator ought to follow law in setting up the rules so that those who are regulated can plan, allocate resources to meet the standards, versus operating in a state of uncertainty and duress.”
The senators also voted to shoot down a last-minute plea by Democrats to delay the vote until Pruitt’s emails could be released and reviewed.
A state judge ruled late Thursday that Pruitt’s office has to release what could be thousands of emails between him or his staff and various fossil fuel and conservative interests, records that the Center for Media and Democracy requested more than two years ago.
Democrats unsuccessfully sought to delay the Pruitt vote until at least after Tuesday, when the emails are due to be released, so that senators could see them.
“We don’t have all of the information that we need to make this important decision,” said Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Regulation: Lawmakers look to delay labor board ruling Senate Dems offer bill to restore internet privacy rules Dem senator on Gorsuch: 'The dark deed is done’ MORE (D-Ore.) “We don’t have all of the facts that we need to have and that’s because as attorney general of Oklahoma, he kept his information controlled and unavailable to the Senators in this chamber and unavailable to the citizens of America.”
The delay would have pushed Pruitt’s vote to Feb. 27 at the earliest, due to a coming Senate recess.
McConnell slammed the pleas as politically-motivated delay tactics, like when the Democrats boycotted Pruitt’s committee vote.
“Over the past several weeks we’ve seen a historic level of obstruction from our democratic colleagues on the president’s cabinet,” he said. “Truly historic, unprecedented, and harmful obstruction. Pointless obstruction … a collection of futile gestures.”
Pruitt is set to be sworn in at 5 p.m.
- Devin Henry contributed.