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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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
The climate crisis has become a driving and dividing factor in the political arena in recent years. According to the survey, almost three-quarters of respondents think global warming is happening (though that number varies across party lines) with more than half of registered voters agreeing that it is driven by human activities. As such, six-in-ten voters are worried about the current state of the climate — a marked increase from the last survey conducted in March 2018.
When asked how much they would support different strategies the government could use to reduce air pollution, more than three-quarters agreed that investing in renewable energy research and infrastructure and regulating pollution was a priority, as well as taxing pollution (requiring companies to pay a tax on pollution they emit to encourage a reduction in emissions). A majority of respondents also support more specific policies to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy, including a revenue-neutral carbon tax and a fee on carbon pollution that distributes money to U.S. citizens through monthly dividend checks. Furthermore, many support a Clean Power Plan that implements strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants. A majority of voters also say they want policies that address the pollution that causes global warming and reduces pollution investments, regulations and taxes.
Climate change ranks as the 17th most important voting issue and is a more polarizing topic than abortion. So much so, that almost half of registered voters say they would support a president who declared global warming a national emergency if Congress does not act.
A handful of 2020 presidential candidates have put climate change at the forefront of their campaign platform as part of ongoing pressure to combat the effects of climate change. The Green New Deal, unveiled in part by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) earlier this year is a decade-long plan that will "mobilize every aspect of American society ... to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all," according to a section of the resolution from her office posted by NPR.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who introduced a plan just a few days ago to combat climate change. In it, Bennet calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank" to use federal spending to incentivize the private sector to transition to net-zero emissions by 2050. His opponent, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State, similarly announced a clean energy plan earlier this month dubbed the "100 Percent Clean Energy for America Plan" that would aim to phase out coal over the next decade and require all power production to be emissions-free by 2035.
Former Vice President Joe Biden also threw his name into the running hat but didn't mention climate change in his announcement. His overall stand on the Green New Deal and fossil fuel infrastructure is hazy. His campaign website promises environmental action but does not go into further detail. If elected president, Senator Elizabeth Warren has promised an executive order to ban new fossil fuel extraction leases in federal lands and waters.
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President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."
georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images
By Jennifer Molidor
One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.
"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.