Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and his fellow Republican senators voted Thursday to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), despite not knowing what kind of relationship Pruitt has with oil and gas companies.
The vote was almost exactly down party lines, although Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) also voted to confirm. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) opposed.
There are more than 2,500 pieces of correspondence between Pruitt or his staff and oil and gas companies that have not yet been released.
A judge in Oklahoma ruled that Pruitt’s office must release the correspondence, responsive to a 2015 Open Records Act request by the Center for Media and Democracy, by Tuesday. Senate Republicans were not willing to wait.
During his confirmation process, Pruitt’s ties to oil and gas companies were repeatedly questioned, but he declined to provide emails documenting the nature of those ties. The AG’s office previously said it had 3,000 pieces of correspondence between. They released only 411 of those earlier this week. Under the judge’s order, the office will have to produce documents responsive to eight other requests from the non-profit as well.
An investigation by the New York Times in 2014 revealed that Pruitt sent a letter to the EPA on state letterhead that had been drafted by an oil company representative.
As attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA over a dozen times, alleging the agency had overreached its authority or had promulgated a rule that did not adequately account for its economic burden to industry.
Pruitt will likely be sworn in next week, as President Donald Trump will return to Florida this weekend.
Once sworn in, Pruitt is expected to work to reverse many of the regulations that were developed under the Obama administration. The Clean Power Plan, for instance, faces an uncertain future, as do other efforts to protect clean air and water in the United States.
Pruitt’s nomination has faced unprecedented opposition. Hundreds of former EPA staffers signed a public letter opposing him, and current EPA workers staged a protest last week in Chicago against his confirmation.