The Planet

Senate Republicans Rush To Confirm Scott Pruitt For EPA, Bypassing Court Order

by Ben Jervey

February 17, 2017
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, greets Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) as he arrives for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill January 18, 2017.

If Scott Pruitt is hiding something—and it sure looks like he is—Senate Republicans refused to wait around to find out what it is.

Our Republican friends will rue the day they rammed this nomination through the Senate just as the emails were being litigated.

The Oklahoma attorney general and the president’s nominee to run the EPA has dodged open information requests from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) for over two years. Yesterday, the Oklahoma County Court found Pruitt’s office in violation of the state’s Open Records Act, and ordered the attorney general to release thousands of emails by next Tuesday, February 21.

Rather than wait to see what Pruitt’s office has been trying to conceal in those emails, Senate Republicans rushed a vote—and early Friday afternoon confirmed Pruitt to serve as EPA administrator by a 52-46 vote. Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican to vote against Pruitt.

“I believe that our Republican friends will rue the day that they had this nomination rammed through the Senate on the very day that the emails were being litigated in Oklahoma,” said Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic Senator from Rhode Island, before the Friday vote.

CMD first filed a request for emails between Pruitt’s office and fossil fuel companies and industry reps in 2015. Only on February 10 did the attorney general’s office finally respond—after fierce legal and political pressure—to just the first of nine outstanding requests, and with only 411 of the more than 3,000 relevant emails sought by CMD. 

In her ruling on Thursday, Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons called the attorney general’s office handling of the Oklahoma Open Records Act an “abject failure.”

“Scott Pruitt broke the law and went to great lengths to avoid the questions many Americans have about his true motivations,” said Nick Surgey, CMD’s director of research. “Despite Pruitt’s efforts to repeatedly obfuscate and withhold public documents, we’re all wiser to his ways and the interests he really serves.”

As we wrote in our “get to know” portrait last month, Pruitt’s hostility to environmental protections is unprecedented in a nominee to run the agency, and George H.W. Bush’s EPA head said of Pruitt that,   There has never been a more explicit and opposing interpretation of the authority and responsibility of EPA by an EPA nominee.” Pruitt’s allegiance to Oklahoma’s rich oil and gas industry is well-documented, and in 2014 The New York Times exposed Pruitt for sending letters to federal agencies under his name that were actually written by reps from a major coal company and for holding secret meetings with fossil fuel industry funders to strategize efforts to subvert the EPA’s authority.

Senate Republicans didn’t seem interested in learning what is in the emails before confirming Pruitt, rushing to vote today. This could lead to a greater embarrassment next week, when the emails are released and poured through by journalists and investigators. Will Pruitt wind up being the second of Trump’s nominees forced to resign his post? It might depend on what’s in those emails.

Preview image via YouTube screenshot. Top image by Aaron P. Bernstein via Getty Images.

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Senate Republicans Rush To Confirm Scott Pruitt For EPA, Bypassing Court Order