WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2017 - The Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, clearing the way for him to begin working to remove or soften Obama-era regulations on the agriculture and energy sectors.
Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general had sued the EPA more than a dozen times, including over its “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, was sworn into ofice later Friday afternoon by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were both out of town.
“I look forward to working with the dedicated employees on our shared vision to protect our environment for future generations,” Pruitt wrote on his new Twitter account after taking office.
“I’m dedicated to working w/stakeholders - industry, farmers, ranchers, business owners – on traditional values of environmental stewardship.”
The Senate voted 52-46 to confirm Pruitt after Senate Republican leaders brushed aside Democratic demands to delay the vote until the Oklahoma attorney general’s office released emails between Pruitt and the energy industry. A state district judge on Thursday ordered the office to begin releasing the records by Tuesday.
Two energy-state Democrats voted for Pruitt, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. A third Democrat, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, missed the vote. Donnelly, who faces a tough re-election race in 2018, had said he would oppose Pruitt’s nomination but looked forward to working with him to roll back the WOTUS rule and other regulations.
Donnelly was attending a meeting in East Chicago, Ind., called by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on a lead Superfund site, according to his staff.
“The EPA’s overreaching regulations have stunted job growh, hurt our economy and failed to help the agency meet its mission,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “The EPA needs to be reformed and modernized. … Scott Pruitt is the right person for the job.”
Some in agriculture and their allies in the Senate were initially a little wary of Pruitt because of his outspoken opposition to federal ethanol mandates. But during his Jan. 18 confirmation hearing, he went to great lengths to reassure Midwest senators that he’ll follow congressional intent when implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Pruitt declined to take a stand on whether the point of obligation should be changed, citing the fact that the issue is currently under review at EPA. Some refiners have petitioned EPA to shift the obligation for meeting the law’s requirements downstream to blenders and others.
He also didn’t make any specific commitments as to how high the agency would set the annual usage mandates, or renewable volume obligations (RVOs).
But he notably said that EPA has been creating “great uncertainty in the marketplace” because it “routinely misses the statutory targets.” He also said that EPA should use its waiver authority “judiciously” and “consistent with the will of Congress.”
The WOTUS rule is tied up in the courts for now, but at some point he will have to deal with that as well. Although he sued EPA to block the rule, he has not provided any details on how he would change it except to say that landowners need more clarity about what areas fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
Democrats had no chance to stop Pruitt from taking office, since only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against him, but they held the floor all night in order to press their concerns about his views on climate change and other issues and to complain about his office’s failure to release his emails.
“We have a president who last year in the campaign said his job, a big part of his job, is to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer told reporters.
Schumer claimed Republicans are “ashamed” of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. “They don’t want the light of day.”
Farm and biofuel groups welcomed Pruitt’s confirmation.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Pruitt would be a "breath of fresh air" at EPA. “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."
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt “struck a balance between protecting the environment and protecting the livelihoods of farmers and business owners,” said John Weber, president of the National Pork Producers Council.
Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said his industry looks forward to “working with Mr. Pruitt to ensure the RFS remains on track with strong, annual obligations that follow congressional intent.”
CropLife America, which represents the pesticide industry, also was enthusiastic. “With Pruitt at the helm of the agency, the association is hopeful that EPA will be responsive to the concerns of the crop protection industry and guide the Agency to a more transparent and predictable pesticide registration process,” CLA said.
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“We are eager to share our priority issues with the new leadership at EPA, including the need for rigor in examining studies used in human health risk assessments,” CLA President and CEO Jay Vroom said.
Conservation groups were just as vocal in their criticism of the confirmation. Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Biological Diversity both slammed Pruitt.
Defenders CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark called him “anti-environment, anti-science and anti-regulation,” while CBD said he is “a climate change denier who has repeatedly sued the EPA to block lifesaving pollution-prevention measures.”
EPA is facing a March 31 court-mandated deadline to make a final decision on its proposal to revoke food tolerances for chlorpyrifos. It also is in the midst of registration reviews on several high-profile active ingredients, such as atrazine and glyphosate.
(Updated at 6 p.m. with swearing in.)
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