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Scott Pruitt confirmed to head EPA

Scott Pruitt was confirmed as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, Feb. 17 in a Senate vote of 52-46. The decision to appoint the former Attorney General of Oklahoma has sparked controversy among government officials and environmental groups who note his history of suing the EPA in protest of regulations and denying climate change. The vote came after a tense morning of EPA employees calling their Senators to protest the vote, culminating in Democratic Senators attempted to take over the floor.

Pruitt has filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the EPA in the past six years, often directly alongside fossil fuel companies. During confirmation hearings last week, he told senators that “Science tells us that the climate is changing and human activity in some manner impacts that change. The human ability to measure with precision the extent of that impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.”

Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against him, and two Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — voted yes.

Under Pruitt’s predecessor Gina McCarthy, appointed under former President Obama, the EPA made significant strides in environmental regulations including proposing higher standards for power plant pollution and creating a grant to address environmental justice, among other changes. Trump has indicated his intentions to undo Obama’s climate regulations and dismantle some offices and programs within the EPA.

Former EPA employees who have served under Presidents of both parties sent a letter to the Senate expressing concern for the nomination choice, specifically citing his demonstrated lack of interest in environmental regulation, climate change denial, and possible conflict of interests between public welfare and private business interests.

Legal Civil Service protections would prevent Pruitt from immediately firing EPA employees, though this demonstration of protest may prompt other governmental officials to change the protections. Pruitt would be able to shift employees among positions.

EPA employees anticipate a tense working relationship within the office and plan to continue the resistance against Pruitt’s agenda.

The vote came just days before important documents concerning Pruitt’s integrity were due to be released, including his correspondence with oil and gas companies in Oklahoma he had while engaged in lawsuits against the EPA. The left-leaning citizens’ group Center for Media and Democracy had filed a freedom of information request back in March 2015 to access about 3,000 emails. An Oklahoma judge ordered that the state produce the documentation by Tuesday, Feb. 21 after a stalling period. Oregon Democrat Senator Jeff Merkeley introduced a measure that would have delayed the vote. The emails could reveal a conflict of interest between Pruitt’s ties to private industry and his public duty.

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