OK AG Scott Pruitt Sworn In As New Head Of EPA Amid Lawsuit

Friday, February 17th 2017, 10:04 pm
By: Grant Hermes

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate 52-46 Friday afternoon. He was later sworn in in a rapid-fire ceremony by Vice President Mike Pence. To many, on both sides of the aisle, Pruitt represents a marked shift in the EPA.

The vote was mostly along party lines with Democrats Joe Manchin (WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Republican Susan Collins (IN) breaking rank. The vote was also an historic one for Oklahoma.

Pruitt is the first Oklahoman to be in a presidential cabinet since 1929, when General Patrick J. Hurley served as the Secretary of War under President Herbert Hoover.

His confirmation shouldn't come as a surprise, but opponents say they're disappointed.

“I think if the oil, gas and coal industry got together and picked someone they wanted to run the EPA they'd probably pick someone like Scott Pruitt,” Nick Surgey, Director of the Center for Media and Democracy said after the confirmation. CMD is a watchdog group based in Madison, WI.

Earlier this week, Pruitt was ordered by an Oklahoma County judge to turn over 3000 emails between Pruitt and energy companies, saying there was an “abject failure” to follow state law. The order refers to a two-year-old request for the requests CDM made under the state’s open records act. So far, CMD has only received 411 emails. The judge ordered they be released in the next 10 days.

Surgey said it’s unclear what will be found in the emails, conceding it may be nothing. He did, however, point to Pruitt’s history of ties to Oklahoma’s energy sector including donations made to his reelection campaign by oil and gas companies. He also included the Pulitzer Prize winning story by the New York Times in 2014 which uncovered an instance through emails when Pruitt copied a letter from Devon Energy onto Oklahoma letter-head and sent it to the EPA.

“His record has not been properly reviewed and I think sensible on the part of the senate to wait until, we're just talking about next Tuesday until these emails are released,” Surgey said.

Pruitt’s confirmation process was one of the longest in history. According to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Pruitt answered more than 1,200 questions both in writing and during his 7-hour confirmation hearing.

Energy companies here in Oklahoma are thrilled, saying the EPA under Obama was a "significant nuisance."

“I think we're looking at an era where the EPA will fit into the legal constructs it was set out to. It won't exceed its legal authority. It will be a much more inclusive agency,” President of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association Chad Warmington said.

Warmington said the EPA over the past eight years has largely ignored input from energy companies and states. He expects Pruitt to be “balanced” giving those with vested interests “a seat at the table.”

“I think the lessons that he’s learned and the things he's done as Attorney General will serve him well in the roll leading the EPA on behalf of the whole country,” said Warmington.

During his time as Attorney General, Pruitt dismantled the Environmental Protection Unit of his office instead converting it to the Federalism Unit. According to the Attorney General’s website a month ago, FU was “dedicated to representing the interests of the state and challenging the federal government when it has overreached its authority.”

The page has since been changed to read, “The Federalism Unit directly handles those appeals determined to be most significant to Oklahoma and to the development of federal and state jurisprudence and appears on occasion in federal and state trial courts on matters implicating the state's most critical interests.” The Attorney General’s office could not be reached for a comment on the change. 

Pruitt was sworn in ahead of what are expected to be sweeping executive orders. One White House official told the publication InsideEPA new executive orders on the way could "suck the air out" of the room.

Pruitt has formally resigned from his position as Attorney General of Oklahoma Friday. In his resignation letter, he said he is “nostalgic” about his time as Attorney General and vowed to continue his work on a national scale.

In a congratulatory statement Governor Mary Fallin said, “Scott Pruitt will do a great job as EPA administrator. He has been a tireless advocate of the precious balance of power between state and federal governments. In his six years as attorney general, he led the charge to combat the ever-increasing overreach of the federal government.”

The Oklahoma First Assistant Attorney General Cara Rodriguez is the acting AG for the state until Fallin appoints a replacement for Pruitt. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for a timeline on when that would happen. In her statement, she only says an appointment would happen “soon.” The replacement would finish out Pruitt’s term which ends 2019.