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US Senate confirms Scott Pruitt as Trump's head of EPA

February 17, 2017

Pruitt has been criticized for his climate change skepticism. Conservatives heralded him as a modernizing force for the Environmental Protection Agency, but Democrats fear he will undo climate protection regulations.

Washington Anhörung Scott Pruitt desg.  Leiter US-Umweltschutzbehörde EPA
Image: Reuters/J. Roberts

In a victory for the beleaguered Trump administration, the US Senate voted Friday to confirm Scott Pruitt as head of the very agency he sued over a dozen times in his former role as Attorney General of the oil-rich state of Oklahoma.

The 52-46 vote fell largely along party lines, with only one Republican Senator, Susan Collins of Maine, casting a dissenting vote and two blue-dog Democrats from states with large energy sectors, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, voting in favor.

Pruitt's confirmation came after Democrats held an all-night speaking session on the Senate floor in an attempt to hold up the vote until later in February, when some 3,000 emails between the former state attorney general and fossil fuel companies are due to be reviewed and released by an Oklahoma judge.

A divisive new agency leader

USA Protest gegen Klimapolitik Donald Trumps in New York
Environmental activists protest Trump cabinet nomineesImage: picture-alliance/Zuma Press/

Republicans and conservatives celebrated the vote, claiming the new EPA head would reform and modernize the environmental agency.

But Democrats and climate activists lambasted Pruitt's confirmation, citing his deep ties to fossil fuel and oil companies and his skepticism on the human contribution to climate change as deeply troubling.

"Pruitt has demonstrated time and again his unwillingness to accept the science of climate change and his contempt for the laws protecting our air and drinking water," top Senate Democrat Dick Durbin said.

In a letter sent to Senators earlier in the week, more than 700 former EPA officials called on Congress to oppose Pruitt's confirmation, saying that he had "shown no interest in enforcing environmental laws."

During his time as Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA over a dozen times on behalf of energy executives looking to reverse environmental regulations under the Obama administration.

USA Umweltschutzbehörde in Washington
Trump and the EPA have already butted headsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Schmitt-Tegge

Deregulation ahead

Trump has already signaled he will get rid of Obama's Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon emission reductions from coal and natural gas power plants, and some climate advisors believe the President could pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. He is likely to issue executive orders as early as next week that reorganize the EPA and dismantle federal regulation.

Prior to Pruitt's confirmation, Trump and EPA workers had already collided over budget freezes and the Republican President's attempt to stifle the agency's social media communications. The orders led to the creation of alternative social media accounts as government scientists resisted the attempts to lame the agency.

cmb/kl (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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