Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was confirmed as the new administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, in a vote by the Senate Friday.
The move is seen by many as a key step by the Trump administration to roll back the Obama administration's rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other sources. (Learn about major milestones in EPA history.)
The 52-46 vote fell largely along party lines, with one Republican Senator (Susan Collins of Maine) voting against Pruitt and two Democrats (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota) voting for him.
Calling Pruitt “exceptionally qualified,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said President Trump’s nominee “thinks it’s time for the EPA to get back to the clean air and clean water business, and to do so with an appreciation for the complexity of our modern world.
“He’s dedicated to environmental protection,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “And, as someone with state government experience, he understands the real-world consequences of EPA actions and knows that balance is the key to making policies that are sustainable over the long-term.”
Some Democrats criticized Trump’s pick, saying Pruitt had been too close to the fossil-fuel industry and too aggressive in trying to block federal environmental actions while he served in Oklahoma state government.
“He has never taken EPA's responsibility seriously,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). “He has done nothing but sue them.”
Pruitt had been strongly opposed by a number of environmental groups.
In his role in Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA fourteen times to block clean air and water rules—“all while collecting funds from the industry players poised to benefit from weaker rules,” the Environmental Defense Fund says in a statement.
“This vote took direct aim at America's bedrock environmental protections,” EDF says.
Neera Tanden of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress issued a statement criticizing Pruitt for opposing efforts to regulate toxic mercury from smokestacks and pollutants from oil and gas development.
“He’s opposed any action to address the urgent threat of climate change,” Tanden said. “His record of opposing basic protections for public health and the environment is chilling, and he seems determined to continue to do the bidding of the oil industry and electric utilities at any cost."
"Scott Pruitt is a dangerous and cynical choice to head the EPA,” Audubon Society president David Yarnold said in a statement. “He's a wholly-owned representative of polluters and Audubon will be vigilant as Pruitt sets out to dismantle the agency he heads."