Scott Pruitt has long questioned the reality of man-made climate change. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to limit carbon emissions, regulate smog pollution, and safeguard wetlands and streams — that filter into drinking water — against contamination. Pruitt is such a loyal friend to the fossil-fuel industry, he once took a letter decrying fracking regulations — sent to him by the oil company Devon Energy — copied the text of the letter onto Oklahoma government stationery, and mailed it off to the EPA.
On Friday afternoon, 52 senators decided that this was a fitting résumé for America’s next head of environmental protection. Every Republican save Susan Collins (and John McCain, who did not vote on the measure) voted to confirm Pruitt, as did (coal-rich) West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and (oil-rich) North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.
Democrats had hoped to delay the vote on Pruitt’s nomination until after next Tuesday, when the Oklahoma attorney general’s office will be forced to release 3,000 emails related to Pruitt’s communications with the fossil-fuel industry. But Republicans were not willing to wait.
In their defense, it is hard to imagine what in Pruitt’s private correspondence could be more disqualifying — or, from the GOP’s perspective, more commendable — than the attorney general’s long record of fighting to increase water pollution and accelerate climate change.
President Trump has made it clear that he expects Pruitt to continue advancing these goals at the EPA. In the coming days, the White House plans to celebrate Pruitt’s swearing-in with one or more executive orders aimed at undoing Obama-era climate-change policies, the New York Times reports.
Pruitt’s mission at the EPA will not be an effortless one. Already, the agency’s civil service is mobilizing against their new boss. Legal constraints bar Pruitt from simply firing any EPA employee who is genuinely committed to environmental protection. Likewise, he will not be able to immediately eliminate all Obama-era regulations. But he will be able to reassign insubordinate civil servants to less desirable roles, and to use his legal expertise to defang existing regulations.
In other news, the Antarctic ice sheet is now the smallest it’s ever been.