WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2017 - As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office on Friday, the Senate will vet his nominees to run the EPA and other departments important to agriculture.
EPA pick Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, will have his confirmation hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The Senate also will hold hearings for Trump’s pick to run the Interior Department, Rep. Ryan Zinke, as well as the billionaire tapped to lead administration trade policy, Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross.
Farmers and ranchers, meanwhile, continue to wait for Trump to nominate his secretary of agriculture. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Friday morning that a nominee would be named “some time soon.” On Fox News Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence didn’t address the USDA vacancy directly but said Trump would “probably” finish making all his cabinet nominations by Friday.
On Friday morning, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced via a blog post an email to staff that he was leaving office a week early. Michael Scuse, the undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, is now serving as acting secretary.
Even if Vilsack’s successor is announced this week, given the time it takes for paperwork and the Senate confirmation process USDA will be without a full-time nominee for some time.
Trump will be sworn in at noon Friday as the 45th president.
Pruitt is likely to receive the tough questioning from Democrats on climate change and on his actions as state attorney general. Reports this weekend by the Environmental Working Group and the New York Times on his Oklahoma record highlighted his refusal to pursue his predecessor’s federal lawsuit against the poultry industry over pollution in a northeastern Oklahoma river.
“I suspect there will be some very forceful questioning,” Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said of Pruitt’s hearing. “I expect him to do very well.”
Pruitt has already won over at least one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. After a meeting with Pruitt, Manchin issued a statement saying he “has the right experience for the position and look forward to his confirmation process.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said she had a “solid discussion” with Pruitt on a “true all-of-the-above energy strategy.” They also addressed the “unrealistic” “waters of the United States” rule, she said.
A coalition of conservative groups last week wrote a defense of Pruitt, saying he had been “a stalwart defender against federal intrusion into state and individual rights.”
Zinke, the Interior nominee, will have his confirmation hearing on Tuesday afternoon before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Zinke also is a critical piece of Trump’s pledge to ramp up fossil fuel production because of the department’s vast land holdings as well as because of the Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act.
Opposition to Zinke has been muted in part because he has generally resisted turning federal lands over to states and local governments, a position that has won him plaudits from wildlife conservationists. He’s also considered an avid outdoorsman.
Trade will be an issue as Trump’s nominee for Commerce, billionaire Wilbur Ross, goes before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, also on Wednesday. Trump transition spokesman have said that Ross will take the lead in implementing Trump’s trade policy, which will include an emphasis on taking enforcement actions against China and renegotiating the North American Free-Trade Agreement.
Ross is expected to be questioned about NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the hearing.
Trump’s Energy nominee, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and his pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., also have confirmation hearings on Wednesday.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Jan. 16
Tuesday, Jan. 17
2:15 p.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds confirmation hearing for Ryan Zinke to be secretary of the interior, 366 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Jan. 18
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds confirmation hearing for Scott Pruitt to be EPA administrator, 406 Dirksen. 406 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds confirmation hearing for Wilbur Ross to be secretary of commerce, G50 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee holds confirmation hearing for Tom Price to be secretary of health and human services, 430 Dirksen.
Thursday, Jan. 19
Trump speaks at the Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration, Lincoln Memorial.
Friday, Jan. 20
Noon - Donald J. Trump is sworn in as president of the United States.
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