The Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday. Two Democrats, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, crossed party lines to approve Pruitt while Republican Susan Collins of Maine voted against him. From the New York Times:
Democrats railed all night on the Senate floor against Mr. Pruitt and urged Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to delay the confirmation vote until after next Tuesday, when the Oklahoma attorney general’s office is under order to release about 3,000 of Mr. Pruitt’s emails related to his communications with the fossil fuel industry.
But the effort did little but deprive Democrats of sleep.
Democrats, environmental groups and even current E.P.A. employees have harshly criticized Mr. Pruitt’s record of fighting the mission of the agency he will now lead, as well as his close ties with the fossil fuel industry he will now regulate.
Pruitt’s confirmation came just hours after the court order mandated his emails and other documents be released in response to public records requests on his communications with the fossil fuel industry. From U.S. News & World Report:
Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons, of the District Court in Oklahoma County, ordered the state attorney general's office to turn over thousands of emails to comply with multiple public records requests dating to January 2015.
Those requests, filed by the Center for Media and Democracy, a left-leaning media watchdog, sought correspondence between Pruitt's office and fossil fuel titans such as Devon Energy and Peabody Energy, as well as industry groups like Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute and conservative organizations like the Republican Attorneys General Association.
As noted by the Times, Pruitt's correspondence has previously exposed unethical behavior. A 2014 investigation by the paper found evidence that fossil fuel lobbyists had drafted letters criticizing environmental regulations that Pruitt then directly copied and pasted onto his attorney general letterhead and passed on to the EPA. “Many of the coal, oil and gas companies represented by those lobbyists were also some his largest campaign contributors,” the Times’ Coral Davenport wrote in her piece on Friday's confirmation. “Mr. Pruitt also worked jointly with those companies in filing multiple lawsuits against major E.P.A. regulations.”
Even with Pruitt's confirmation, his office will still have to release his emails to the Center for Media and Democracy. It's just less likely that whatever is in them will influence his appointment.