GOP's Move to Force Through Trump's EPA Pick Is 'Outrageous'
Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have suspended their panel's rules to force through Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The maneuver was made only one day after all 10 Democratic members of the committee announced a boycott over President Donald Trump's EPA pick. The boycott was sparked over their serious concerns of the Oklahoma attorney general's stances on climate change, pollution regulation and unanswered requests to provide official documents or emails that would shed light on his ties to the energy industry.
After temporarily suspending the committee's rules—which requires at least two minority members to meet quorum—committee Republicans unanimously approved Pruitt by a 11-0 vote at a Thursday hearing. This means Pruitt's nomination will go to the full GOP-controlled Senate, where he is likely to be approved.
Committee Democrats have called the move today by their Republican colleagues "irresponsible."
"I am disappointed that our majority has decided to ignore our concerns and those of the American people, and break the committee's rules in an effort to expedite Mr. Pruitt's nomination, but we have to stand our ground in our pursuit of the truth and in fulfillment of our Constitutional duty with respect to nominations," ranking member Tom Carper (D-DE) said in a statement.
"He's dodged our questions, ignored our letters, and told us go to the back of the line and make open records requests to get the information we are entitled to," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The pattern follows a similar move by the GOP members of the Senate Finance Committee, who altered committee rules to approve the nominations of health secretary nominee Tom Price and treasury pick Steven Mnuchin. They also move to the full Senate without a Democratic vote.
"We took this extraordinary step because the minority members of the committee took the extraordinary step of boycotting the business meeting to approve an EPA administrator for an incoming administration," said environment committee Chairman Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) after the vote.
"The minority has put us in this, unchartered waters. Never before in the history of the EPA has a new president's incoming administration nominee been boycotted."
However, as The Hill pointed out, "Barrasso and his Republican colleagues boycotted a 2013 vote to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator, though they eventually gave in."
Barrasso countered that their boycott was different because Trump deserves special treatment for his first Cabinet.
"Elections have consequences, and a new president is entitled to put in place people who will advance his agenda, the agenda that the people voted for when they elected him president," Barrasso said.
Environmental groups have strongly criticized this play by the Senate environment committee Republicans.
"It's outrageous that Republicans jammed Scott Pruitt's nomination through the Environment Committee," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, adding that Pruitt has "blatantly obstructed a thorough review of his record."
Suh urges the full Senate to reject Pruitt's nomination because he's "uniquely unfit for the job."
"Pruitt has spent a career colluding with polluters trying to prevent the EPA from fulfilling its central mission—protecting public health and our environment," she continued. "He has opposed clean air rules that would save thousands of lives, and he embraces discredited, fringe views on climate science. He's dodged and given evasive answers to question after question about his record, one that is rife with conflicts-of-interest."
The Center for Media and Democracy, which has filed six public unfulfilled record requests to Pruitt's office, also spoke out against the vote.
"With today's vote on Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency is now one step closer to being placed in the hands of an avowed climate denier with close ties to major fossil fuel companies," said Nick Surgey, a researcher at the center. "Pruitt's track-record as Oklahoma Attorney General and chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association leaves us convinced he has serious conflicts of interest that make him woefully unfit to lead the EPA."
"Pruitt shows contempt for the Senate's responsibility to properly vet President Trump's appointees. He refuses to discuss his deep connections to companies he would oversee as EPA Administrator. And his office has failed to respond to six public record requests filed by the Center for Media and Democracy, including one filed more than two years ago seeking his communications with coal, oil and gas companies," Surgey continued. "His office has identified more than 3,000 documents in response to this request, but has yet to release any. In fact, Pruitt's office appears not to have responded to any record requests filed in the past two years. It increasingly looks like he has something to hide. As families and communities from Flint to Houston to Florida work to reduce pollution and stop damage to the climate, they deserve the facts behind whose interests Pruitt really serves."
Sierra Club's Climate Policy Director Liz Perera criticized the committee's vote as well.
"It is deeply disappointing that the committee that is supposed to put the environment and public first has approved a climate change-denying fossil fuel ally as head of the Environmental Protection Agency," Perera said. "Scott Pruitt is dangerously unfit to lead the EPA and has far too many conflicts of interest that should be a red flag for all Americans. He's collected hundreds of thousands from dirty fuel interests and sued the very agency he now wants to lead eight times, all to weaken public health protections."
"Committee Democrats understandably have questions about Pruitt's troubling conflicts of interest and whether he is committed to putting the public first," she added. "These questions remain unanswered by the nominee and Democrats rightly refused to be complicit in pushing forward such an unacceptable nominee, so Republicans rewrote the rules so that Pruitt can seize control of the EPA and throw critical clean air and water rules out. That is why it is more important than ever that the full Senate must reject Scott Pruitt's confirmation in order to do right by American families."
Similarly, Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said the GOP's votes in favor of Pruitt are akin to a "vote for poisoned air, polluted water, and an unstable climate."
"While reassuring to see many Senators resist Pruitt's confirmation, the lawmakers who swung open the doors for the fossil fuel takeover of environmental protection should be ashamed of themselves," Leonard said. "When the next Flint, Michigan crisis happens in the districts of these representatives, they will have themselves to blame. The powerful movement that has risen to stop the worst of the Trump administration, including the nomination of Pruitt, will only grow stronger as we fight to protect what is right."
Lastly, Environmental Working Group president and co-founder Ken Cook said that President Trump has found just the man to carry out his vision of dismantling the EPA.
"By any measure, the president could hardly have found—and the committee could not have approved—a worse nominee to be in charge of public health and environmental protection," Cook said. "As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt's crusade of more than a dozen lawsuits filed against the EPA to stop efforts aimed at reducing air and water pollution to protect Americans is unmatched. Time and time again, Pruitt said 'no' when policies were proposed or rules implemented that would save lives, including initiatives specifically intended to protect children."
"Now, Pruitt is poised to take control of the very agency he's repeatedly attacked. If approved by the full Senate, he will start on day one as the worst EPA administrator in history. Mark my words: His record and his evasive testimony to the committee indicate he will move quickly to decimate the agency's ability to protect the health of Americans and our irreplaceable natural resources," he continued.
"Those on the committee who voted for Pruitt have tarnished the legacy of an agency—established by a GOP administration—that for almost 50 years has worked to keep our water pure, our air clean and our families safe. We commend the senators who stood against this disgraceful nominee and pledge to fight any attempt by Pruitt and the Trump administration to return to the days when smog choked our cities, our rivers caught on fire and polluters were free to use our land as toxic waste dumps," Cook concluded.