Scott Pruitt, Trump’s E.P.A. Pick, Is Approved by Senate Committee

Source: By CORAL DAVENPORT, New York Times • Posted: Friday, February 3, 2017

Scott Pruitt at his confirmation hearing to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times 

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans pressed forward on Thursday with the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection AgencyScott Pruitt, suspending the Environment and Public Works Committee’s rules to approve the cabinet pick despite a Democratic boycott.

The 11-0 vote sends the nomination to the full Senate, where Mr. Pruitt will most likely be approved next week.

The move was one of several to break the logjam on Mr. Trump’s incoming team. Party line votes in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Budget Committee also advanced the nomination of Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to be the White House budget director, despite deep concerns among Democrats — and some Republicans — over his tightfisted spending record.

Senators on Thursday teed up what could be a week of rapid-fire confirmations, taking procedural votes to move forward with the nominations of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be attorney general, Representative Tom Price of Georgia to be secretary of health and human services, and Steven T. Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary.

Those confirmation votes are expected to come early next week, after a white-knuckled vote on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be education secretary. With two Republican senators opposing Ms. DeVos, her confirmation hangs by a single vote. In a procedural quirk, Mr. Sessions’s confirmation vote is scheduled after that of Ms. DeVos so he can vote “yes” before he leaves the Senate.

Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Pruitt also appeared headed for confirmation next week.

Democrats and environmental groups have waged a fierce campaign against the confirmation of Mr. Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, who has led or taken part in 14 lawsuits aimed at blocking E.P.A. regulations, including Obama administration policies trying to tackle climate change.

A day after Democrats on the Senate environment committee boycotted a planned vote on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination, the panel’s Republicans reconvened on Thursday and temporarily suspended the committee’s rules, which require the presence of at least two Democrats to hold votes, and approved Mr. Pruitt.

“We took this extraordinary step because the minority took the extraordinary step of boycotting the meeting,” said the environment committee’s chairman, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.

“The minority has put us in these uncharted waters,” he said. “Never before in the history of E.P.A. has a nominee for E.P.A. been boycotted.”

Mr. Pruitt has drawn criticism for his record as the Oklahoma attorney general. In that post, he sent letters to federal agencies on state letterhead outlining objections to environmental regulations. Those letters were largely drafted by oil and gas companies, a 2014 New York Times investigation revealed.

“Pruitt’s record gives us no reason to believe that he will vigorously hold polluters accountable or enforce the law,” said Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based nonprofit group. “Pruitt may not have answered senators’ questions, but everything we do know makes it clear that he can’t and won’t do the job.”

In boycotting Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation proceeding, Democrats complained that he had failed to adequately answer their questions and address their concerns about how he would run the agency charged with protecting the nation’s air, water and public health.

“The committee Democrats are deeply concerned about the lack of thoroughness of Mr. Pruitt’s responses to our questions for the record,” wrote Senator Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, the environment panel’s ranking Democrat, in a letter to Mr. Barrasso.

“We believe these inquiries, and our questions for the record, elicit information from the nominee that he possesses and that he should be able to provide to the committee,” Mr. Carper wrote. “Failure on his part to do so is not only an affront.”

Mr. Barrasso dismissed Democrats’ complaints, saying, “Let’s be clear, Attorney General Pruitt has answered more questions than any past E.P.A. administrator nominee in recent memory.”

Republicans mocked the Democratic boycott.

“Democrats are just wasting time by pulling this stunt,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. “Eighty percent of life is showing up. Democrats are just wasting their lives.”

Mr. Pruitt did provide written answers to over 1,070 questions sent to him by committee Democrats, in a 252-page file. But in some cases, particularly in answer to 19 questions requesting official documents or emails, Mr. Pruitt referred lawmakers to the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, and noted that they could secure the documents through the state’s freedom of information law.

Mr. Carper said it could take as long as two years to receive the documents that way.

Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, complained, “What he continues to say is, ‘Go FOIA yourself.’”

Mr. Carper and committee Democrats also complained that many of Mr. Pruitt’s answers were evasive or insubstantial. In response to a question by Mr. Carper asking him to name a single E.P.A. regulation that he supports, Mr. Pruitt responded, “I have not conducted a comprehensive review of existing E.P.A. regulations.”

Democrats also said Mr. Pruitt had not adequately addressed their concerns about the potential conflicts of interest raised if, as head of the agency, he would address the same multistate lawsuits he brought against the E.P.A. as an attorney general. Mr. Pruitt has declined to say whether he would recuse himself from making decisions in all cases in which he was an original party, telling Democrats simply that he would follow the recommendations of the E.P.A.’s ethics office.

“Mr. Pruitt should be clear with the committee about whether he has already sought consent from the state of Oklahoma to recuse himself or when he will do so,” Mr. Carper wrote.