Update: On Thursday evening, a judge ordered Pruitt’s office to hand over the emails by Tuesday. Republicans still plan to hold the confirmation vote Friday.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), might sail through a confirmation vote despite senators never seeing some 3,000 requested pieces of correspondence between his office and oil and gas companies.
Pruitt has been criticized for acting on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. As EPA chief, he would be responsible for enforcing environmental laws that govern how much and what kind of pollution those companies are allowed to emit.
Pruitt’s confirmation vote is expected to be held Friday afternoon, although a hearing over the emails is scheduled in Oklahoma for Thursday.
Center for Media and Democracy “is asking the judge to declare that Pruitt has violated Oklahoma’s Open Records Act and order immediate release of all of the requested emails and other documents,” the group said.
CMD filed an Open Records Act request in 2015 seeking correspondence between Pruitt and his staff and a number of oil and gas companies. Officials in the AG’s office have said there were 3,000 responsive documents to that request. After a two-year delay in releasing the documents, CMD filed a lawsuit last week to force the AG’s office to respond. Since then, the office has released 411 of the 3,000 emails.
During his confirmation process, Pruitt repeatedly told senators that any additional information about his work — particularly regarding his work on behalf of oil and gas companies in Oklahoma — could be obtained through an Open Records Act request to his office. But his office has previously said those requests are handled in chronological order. There are numerous requests outstanding, including eight others from the CMD.
Democratic senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee have said they cannot vote on Pruitt without knowing the extent of his relationship with oil and gas companies. They even went so far as to boycott the committee vote to send Pruitt’s nomination to the full senate.
“We gave Mr. Pruitt many opportunities to provide information to the Committee, including pre-hearing questions, the hearing itself, and post-hearing questions for the record to which Mr. Pruitt was required to submit written responses,” Democratic senators said in a statement. “Much of his testimony was evasive and many of his written answers non-responsive.”
They called their boycott an “extraordinary step.”
On the other side of the aisle, only one Republican senator has said she will vote against his nomination.
Pruitt’s record on environmental enforcement as state attorney general is woefully thin, and he has been criticized for standing by as a rash of earthquakes, triggered by fracking companies, hit Oklahoma.
Pruitt has also sued the EPA numerous times in an effort to roll back air and water protections that he says overstep the EPA’s authority and are unduly burdensome on industry.
During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt said his work on issues that the oil and gas industry supported was “representing the interest of our state.”
On Wednesday, Republican Sen. Susan Collins (ME) said she would vote against Pruitt’s confirmation because of his previous work against the EPA.
“I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued the EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins told Maine Public Radio. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.”
Collins, one of her party’s most moderate senators, also voted against Education Sec. Betsy Devos’ confirmation. That confirmation vote evenly split the Senate, requiring Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie in a historic vote.
It’s unclear when Pruitt’s nomination will come to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has said the body will hold a vote before it goes on recess Friday, while Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee are calling for McConnell to stop debate on Pruitt until more information comes to light. Pruitt’s hearing is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Complicating matters further is a previously scheduled trip to Germany for the a security meeting. Several senators are expected to leave Washington on Friday, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has said he will leave after a different vote, and may not stay for Pruitt’s confirmation.