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US Senate confirms new EPA administrator

17 Feb 2017 19:00 GMT
US Senate confirms new EPA administrator

Washington, 17 February (Argus) — The US Senate today confirmed Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt (R) to be the new administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, putting a vocal critic of the agency's efforts to regulate energy industries at its helm.

The Senate voted 52-46, largely along party lines, to confirm Pruitt, despite last-ditch efforts by Democrats to delay the process. Two Democrats, senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, joined 50 Republicans in backing the nomination. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican to vote against Pruitt.

Republicans said Pruitt would help change the direction of the agency and help ease regulations they say have harmed economic growth

"Mr. Pruitt will bring much needed change. He is devoted to protecting the environment and the health of all Americans while prioritizing commonsense policies that will allow our economy to grow," Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) said.

As attorney general, Pruitt was involved in a number of legal efforts to overturn EPA regulations issued by former president Barack Obama's administration, including multi-state lawsuits against the Clean Power Plan to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants, mercury regulations and federal ozone air quality standards. Many of those regulations will likely be targeted for rollbacks or repeals by Pruitt, whom President Donald Trump picked for the job in part because of his opposition to Obama's so-called "war on coal."

Trump has said Pruitt will be given the task of focusing the agency on its "essential mission of keeping our air and water clean and safe" and repealing and removing barriers to energy production. In addition he will be "deeply involved" in implementing the new administration's energy policy.

Many industry groups said they welcomed the new leadership at EPA, which they hoped would lead to less onerous environmental regulations. The National Mining Association (NMA), which represents coal producers, said it would work with Pruitt to bring about more "balanced" regulations.

"As a distinguished attorney general he has demonstrated his appreciation for the right of states to manage their affairs where the law allows, and coming from an important energy state he is mindful of the costs that regulations can impose on the economy," NMA president Hal Quinn said.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it hoped Pruitt would get the agency's mid-term review of vehicle CO2 and fuel economy standards "back on track." In one of the final acts of the Obama administration, EPA upheld the vehicle standards for light-duty vehicles sold in 2022-25 after quickly completing a mandated review of the program, saying it believed the regulations were still appropriate.

"The administrator has a keen understanding of how compliance with the government fuel economy/greenhouse gas program depends on what consumers buy, not what automakers produce. That is why standards must also reflect market realities," alliance president Mitch Bainwol said.

Many supporters of Obama's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions said they would resist efforts by Pruitt to rollback regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan.

"Let me be clear: my office will stand firmly in the way if Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration threaten to gut the progress we have made in protecting our environment and tackling the dire impacts of climate change," New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman (D) said.

Democrats opposed to Pruitt staged a last-minute effort to delay the confirmation vote in light of an Oklahoma judge's decision yesterday ordering the state attorney general's office to turn over thousands of pages of documents related to communications between the new EPA chief and fossil fuel companies.

"Mr. Pruitt has stonewalled us for two months and the public for more than two years," said senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware), ranking member on the environment committee. "It would be wholly irresponsible to vote on this nominee this week knowing that we do not have the full picture."

The judge ordered Pruitt to hand over thousands of pages of documents, saying there was an "abject failure" by his office to respond to numerous requests filed by liberal watchdog the Center for Media and Democracy since January 2015. Pruitt was ordered to turn over approximately 3,000 documents by 21 February, with more to follow within 10 days.