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Pruitt Confirmed as EPA Head Before Court-Ordered Emails Released

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 18, 2017. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Sipa via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was confirmed today to lead the Environmental Protection Agency despite protests from Senate Democrats that a judge just ordered the release of thousands of emails Pruitt exchanged with energy companies.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Dems of simply using a stall tactic, telling reporters at a press conference today that “if it wasn’t one thing, it’d be another.”

“It’s pretty clear to all of you here, regardless of what the argument is on any given nominee, it’s pretty clear what’s happening,” McConnell said. “They want to move them as slowly as possible, and on the ones they have deemed controversial, they want to give their left-wing agitators enough time to get up and get organized.”

The vote was party-line other than three crossovers: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted for him, while Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted no.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reminded Republicans on the floor today that in 2013 Gina McCarthy “waited 122 days to be confirmed for EPA because they felt she wasn’t honoring a commitment to transparency; remember the sturm und drang over Lisa Jackson’s e-mails.”

“But what is the Republican leadership’s response? Strap blinders on their members and rush Pruitt through,” Schumer said. “The absolute height of hypocrisy. The same standard they had for Lisa Jackson and for Gina McCarthy they ought to have for Scott Pruitt. There’s no good reason for it. To wait a few extra days to go over Pruitt’s e-mails is not the worst thing in the world, it’s the smart and responsible thing to do.”

At issue is a lawsuit from the Center for Media and Democracy alleging that Pruitt’s office violated the Open Records Act by not releasing requested communications. Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons found Thursday that the state attorney general’s office showed “abject failure” to abide by the law and ordered more than 2,500 emails left out of a 2015 CMD request released by Tuesday.

“Scott Pruitt broke the law and went to great lengths to avoid the questions many Americans have about his true motivations,” said Nick Surgey, CMD’s director of research. “Despite Pruitt’s efforts to repeatedly obfuscate and withhold public documents, we’re all wiser to his ways and the interests he really serves.”

Schumer argued “it’s not the worst thing in the world to take a few extra days to properly vet someone who will have immense power over our nation’s streams, skies, even the lead levels in our homes, our schools and our water supply.”

“And we offered Senator McConnell to do another nominee today so we could still — so it will not even slow down the process of putting in the cabinet,” he added. “He said no. We know why he said no.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said he backed Pruitt in part because of assurances he received about compensation for his state from the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, when the EPA accidentally dumped toxic sludge into a southwest Colorado River.

“I was pleased that [Pruitt] committed to review EPA’s decision to not process the personal injury and economic loss claims related to the Gold King Mine spill,” Gardner said after today’s vote. “I have had conversations with Mr. Pruitt about my sincere disappointment in the broken promises related to the EPA’s spill, specifically the EPA’s refusal to pay for lost property, lost economic opportunity, and lost business opportunity.”

“Mr. Pruitt assured me he is going to make it right and work with me to make sure those injured and those that experienced economic loss are fully compensated. I’m confident that Coloradans have an ally in Mr. Pruitt, and that’s why I supported him.”