Scott Pruitt confirmed as EPA chief

scott-pruitt

Pruitt

The Senate voted 52-46 on Friday to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the next administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Republicans moved forward with Pruitt’s confirmation despite a last-minute push from Democrats and environmentalists to delay the vote.

Pruitt’s confirmation came a day after an Oklahoma county district judge ruled that the state attorney general’s office must hand over thousands of emails related to Pruitt’s communications with fossil fuel companies — a move aimed at examining an alleged conflict of interest between those companies and Pruitt’s ability to carry out the EPA’s mandate.

Opponents of Pruitt wanted to delay the confirmation vote until those emails are released, which could happen sometime this week, according to reports. But Republicans refused to delay what they feel would be another deliberate attempt to slow the confirmation process for another member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Pruitt’s nomination has drawn criticism from the left since then-President-elect Trump first announced it in December. Pruitt has vowed to dismantle several environmental laws and is currently involved in a legal effort by 27 states to overturn President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the president’s primary policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other side of the isle, Republicans have been eager to move forward with Pruitt after what they consider eight years of increasing regulation and oversight by the EPA under the Obama administration that has hampered infrastructure work, jobs and the economy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Pruitt is “exceptionally qualified,” noting Pruitt’s commitment to the environment but also his impartiality to making sustainable, long-term policy decisions.

Water Infrastructure

Pruitt recently expressed strong support for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program and the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) in his written responses to questions submitted by senators following his confirmation hearing before the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee in January.

Democrats on the EPW committee released Pruitt’s responses to their written questions ahead of his confirmation vote before the panel.

RELATED: How could Trump’s EPA nominee affect water?

While Pruitt generally avoided foreshadowing enforcement or regulatory actions EPA may take under his leadership, he consistently expressed strong support for both WIFIA and the SRF programs. For example, in response to a question from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Pruitt said he is “excited by the opportunities the new WIFIA program presents” due to its ability to leverage federal investment at a ratio of up to 60 to 1. He also said he “fully supports” the Drinking Water SRF “and would not support any cuts to that program,” and repeatedly promised to support the Clean Water SRF as well.

Similarly, in response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) about which recent EPA initiatives he favors, Pruitt pointed to WIFIA because it “creates tremendous opportunities to increase water and wastewater infrastructure investment.”

Responding to questions from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Pruitt said he “will make issuing revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act Lead and Copper Rule a priority.” He declined to state his view on the “earliest possible date” to produce a revised LCR, though he said it was “his understanding that EPA expects to issue that proposed rule in 2017.” Pruitt also passed on the chance to call for the replacement of all lead service lines nationwide, labeling that “a long-term goal that municipalities should incorporate into their capital improvement plans.” Pruitt wrote that properly implemented corrosion control treatment “protects public health from exposure to lead from lead service lines.”

As was the case during his confirmation hearing, Pruitt’s written responses avoided calling for comprehensive action in response to climate change, though he did acknowledge that “the climate is changing and human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner.” But when asked what EPA could do to help communities prepare their water and wastewater infrastructure for the effects of climate change and extreme weather, he pointed to assistance available through the SRFs and WIFIA rather than endorsing any new initiatives.

EPW Committee Democrats were generally dissatisfied with Pruitt’s responses. Republicans, on the other hand, praised his answers and noted that Pruitt answered more than 1,200 questions overall – the most for any EPA nominee since at least 1989.

Pruitt has also criticized the Waters of the U.S. rule along with Republican lawmakers who see it as a major expansion of government power and could mean more regulations for private landowners.

“This regulation usurps the state’s authority over its land and water use, and triggers numerous and costly obligations under the [Clean Water] Act for the state and its citizens,” Pruitt wrote last year in a court filing.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the rule under Republican leadership of the agency.

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