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Senate Confirms Scott Pruitt to Head Environmental Protection Agency

As attorney general, Pruitt fought the agency trying to regulate a fracking boom in in Oklahoma, and has questioned the impact of climate change.
Image: Scott Pruitt
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt is expected to face tough questioning about his stance on climate change and ties to the oil and gas industry.Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images

The U.S. Senate Friday confirmed Oklahoma attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA in a party-line 52-46 vote.

Democrats did all they could to delay the final vote, holding another all-night session to highlight their opposition to the Oklahoma attorney general for his past battles with the regulatory agency he is now tasked to run.

Their opposition intensified after a judge ruled late Thursday that Pruitt must release a tranche of emails pertaining to his relationship with the oil and gas industry during his time as attorney general. It’s a request he’s denied for more than two years until a judge said he must comply.

Image: Scott Pruitt, Samuel Alito, Cade Pruitt, Marlyn Pruitt
Supreme Court associate justice Samuel Alito, right, swears in Scott Pruitt as the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator in the White House complex on Feb. 17, 2017.Carolyn Kaster / AP

As attorney general, Pruitt has sued the EPA and fought the agency trying to regulate the fracking boom in his state of Oklahoma. He has also questioned the impact of climate change, and during his confirmation hearing said his own views on the issue are “immaterial.”

Democrats took particular issue with Pruitt’s seemingly cozy relationship with the oil industry. He faced sharp questions over a letter his office sent to the EPA accusing the agency of overestimating the amount of methane released into the air from drilling natural gas wells. The New York Times found the letter was written almost entirely by lawyers from one of Oklahoma’s largest oil companies.

Pruitt has attributed political contributions from oil and gas companies and his close ties to the oil industries to the importance the companies have to the Oklahoma economy.

Democrats urged that his confirmation vote be delayed until February 27 when they return from their week-long recess and after the first batch of judicial-ordered emails are to be released on Tuesday.

"No lawyer in a trial would ever go to trial without known the evidence in the case,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said.

But Republicans went forward, saying those calls were another excuse for delay.

"If it wasn’t one thing it would be another," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “The effort has been to delay the nominations that they make controversial as long as possible in order to play into their left wing base which will not accept the results of the election.”

Pruitt is the latest nominee to be approved on mostly a party line vote. Because Democrats changed Senate rules in 2013, cabinet nominees are able to pass with the support of just a simple majority instead of the previously required 60 votes.