OMAHA (DTN) -- After a long battle, the U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed Scott Pruitt in a 52-46 vote to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, despite last-minute calls by Democrats to delay the vote until after a week-long break for Presidents Day.
Pruitt was sworn in later Friday by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
Senate Democrats made the request after a federal judge in Oklahoma on Thursday ordered Pruitt to turn over some 3,000 emails as part of a multi-year-long information request filed by environmental groups. Those emails center on Pruitt's time as the state's attorney general. That judge ordered the release by Tuesday, while the Senate is on break.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said on the Senate floor on Friday that despite a six-hour hearing and answers to more than 1,200 questions by the Environment and Public Works Committee, senators have "limited information" about the nominee.
"The appropriate question for us to ask is does this nominee hold in his heart the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency," Merkley said.
"We would like to have a full sense of his work as Oklahoma attorney general. For us to have a full sense of these connections we need all emails. There are some 3,000 emails, a substantial body of information. For two years, Attorney General Pruitt has stalled efforts to obtain the documents. We ask for those emails to help understand whether he has supported the public or whether he has supported polluters."
Merkley said a week-long delay in the vote "would cost nothing" and would "honor our responsibility."
The emails stem from a lawsuit filed by the progressive activist group Center for Media and Democracy and the American Civil Liberties Union. That suit alleged Pruitt violated Oklahoma's open records law in not responding to nine records requests. Those requests were for communications between Pruitt and a variety of fossil fuel industry companies and groups.
"It's worth waiting an extra week to get this information than voting without it," Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said Friday.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Democrats were just delaying.
"They are not helping our environment one bit," he said. "What the American people don't need is more political theater from the Senate Democrats. Much of what we have heard from our colleagues on the other side of the aisle about Scott Pruitt is simply not true. These delays are all about obstruction. They are all about denying President [Donald] Trump his cabinet."
AG, ETHANOL SUPPORT
Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, lauded the vote as a first step in turning back an EPA "runaway bureaucracy" that is "largely out of touch with how its policies directly affect folks like cattle ranchers."
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"Scott Pruitt will restore some common sense to environmental policy and we look forward to working with him on restoring regulatory sanity to Washington, such as by killing the onerous waters of the United States rule."
Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Dinneen said the ethanol industry will work with Pruitt to protect its interests.
"As Mr. Pruitt said during his confirmation hearing last month, 'to honor the intent and the expression of the Renewable Fuel Standard statute is very, very important.' We could not agree more," Dinneen said in a statement to DTN.
"We look forward to working with Mr. Pruitt to ensure the RFS remains on track with strong, annual obligations that follow congressional intent. While the RFS remains our priority, we will also continue advocating for the removal of unnecessary volatility restrictions that have discouraged market acceptance of higher-level ethanol blends like E15."
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said based on her conversations with Pruitt, she believes Pruitt will reduce the regulatory burden on rural America and protect the Renewable Fuel Standard.
"In a private meeting and before the Environment and Public Works Committee, I received assurances from Mr. Pruitt that when it comes to the RFS, he will enforce the law as written by Congress and not undermine the RFS."
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Pruitt will listen to the concerns of rural America.
"For years we have struggled with an EPA that was not only tone deaf to the needs and concerns of rural America, it was downright adversarial," Roberts said.
"Producers were burdened with overregulation, which left them feeling ruled, not governed. I am confident Pruitt will lead an EPA that is more respectful of agriculture and will work to restore the trust of farmers, ranchers, and rural Americans."
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Environment Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., said in a joint statement Pruitt will be tasked with working cooperatively with states.
"Administrator Pruitt understands the challenges states may face in implementing complex federal environmental requirements, and the importance of cooperation between states and the EPA in carrying out our nation's environmental laws," they said.
The American Farm Bureau Federation announced its support for Pruitt shortly after he was nominated. AFBF President Zippy Duvall on Friday reiterated the group's support for the new EPA administrator.
"Scott Pruitt's confirmation to lead the Environmental Protection Agency will bring a breath of fresh air to the post," Duvall stated in a news release. "America's farmers and ranchers look forward to working with Administrator Pruitt as he leads the EPA with a welcome level of common sense in the important job of protecting the environment.
"For too long, farmers and ranchers have been victims of EPA's harsh regulatory overreach. Farmers are conservationists to the core and we want to play a positive, cooperative role in protecting the environment we rely on to produce food for this nation," Duvall stated.
The Pruitt nomination moved to the full Senate Feb. 3 after Democrats on the Environmental and Public Works Committee boycotted two prior-scheduled votes. 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 was criticized by agriculture and other interests for not considering their input before finalizing federal regulations.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said in a statement opponents of Pruitt are prepared to stand against him.
"Make no mistake, Scott Pruitt's confirmation begins the fight of a lifetime to protect public health, our environment, climate stability and even the simple sanctity of the EPA itself," she said in a statement to DTN.
"Pruitt is an unequivocal, outspoken enemy of his own job description. These are perilous times for basic human rights like clean water and breathable air, things that most Americans have taken for granted. Now more than ever it is imperative that every well-meaning elected official, from tiny town halls to the halls of Congress, do everything in their power to hamper, resist and thwart Pruitt's pro-polluter worldview...
"...We are up for the fight. Finally, we will be holding accountable those senators from both parties that voted to confirm Pruitt. We are putting those senators on notice: We won't tolerate your betrayal of the planet and the public trust."
Friends of the Earth called out two Democratic senators for their votes. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota sided with Republicans to confirm Pruitt.
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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