OMAHA (DTN) -- Scott Pruitt will move to the full Senate for a vote as the next administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday voted 11-0 amid a Democratic boycott of the former Oklahoma attorney general.
Republicans on the committee held up the scheduled meeting for 30 minutes. That was followed by a vote to suspend the rules of the committee that require at least two members in attendance from the minority party to cast a vote.
EPW Chairman Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the committee had given Democratic members adequate time to vet Pruitt.
"As we pointed out yesterday elections, have consequences," Barrasso said. "We took an extraordinary step because Democrats took an extraordinary step. The procedure we have followed today is under Senate rules. The minority has put us in these unchartered waters... Let me be clear. The leadership of the minority chose to do a blanket boycott. The minority wants political theater."
Senate Democrats on Wednesday also boycotted a vote on President Donald Trump's nominees for Department of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Treasury secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin, as Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee also suspended the rules to advance the nominees.
The American Farm Bureau Federation announced its support for Pruitt shortly after he was nominated. Environmental groups, however, have called for the Senate to reject Pruitt.
Initially, when Pruitt was chosen as the nominee, ethanol and agriculture groups were concerned about his anti-Renewable Fuel Standard pursuits. Since then, a number of Midwestern lawmakers met with Pruitt and came away largely satisfied Pruitt would enforce the RFS that Trump has continued to support.
The Obama administration's EPA has been criticized by agriculture and other interests for not taking their input into consideration before finalizing federal rules.
Though agriculture interests were alarmed by the total maximum daily load, or TMDL, implemented in the Chesapeake Bay by basin states and led by the Obama EPA, Pruitt told members of the committee in mid-January the nutrient-reduction effort in the region is an example of how cooperative federalism should work.
That is, states in the region put together and implemented a nutrient-reduction plan that has, in fact, reduced nutrients flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.
Earlier this week, committee ranking member Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., asked Barrasso to delay the vote because some questions remained unanswered.
"The committee Democrats are deeply concerned about the lack of thoroughness of Mr. Pruitt's responses to our questions for the record," Carper said in a letter.
Democrats on the EPW Committee have said Pruitt still has not provided a number of documents requested about his time as attorney general of Oklahoma, including any correspondence Pruitt had with agriculture and other groups.
In addition, Democrats say they are unsatisfied with Pruitt not agreeing to recuse himself from agency actions dealing with pending litigation he may have initiated as attorney general.
"His responses have not answered whether or not he will do so," Carper said in the letter. "...Committee Democrats and I sent many questions and document requests to Mr. Pruitt over a month ago. We believe these inquiries and our questions for the record, elicit information from the nominee that he possesses and that he should be able to provide to the committee. Failure on his part to do so is not only an affront; it also denies Democratic committee members and all members of the Senate, information necessary to judge his fitness to assume the important role of leading the EPA."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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