The US Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, former attorney general of Oklahoma, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, an organization he's been a longtime critic of, this afternoon.
It was a 52-46 vote along party lines, with one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voting against Pruitt. Collins has established herself as one of the few Republicans willing to defy party orthodoxy, having also voted against Betsy Devos, who is now running the Department of Education.
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The vote came after a last-ditch effort by environmental activists to block the nomination. Even EPA employees were calling Republicans to dissuade them from supporting Pruitt.
Democrats tried to delay the vote until next Tuesday, when emails from Pruitt's attorney general office will be released, further illustrating his extensive relationship with the fossil fuel industry.
But this goal-line defense failed.
"If you don’t believe in climate science, you don’t belong at the EPA," May Boeve, executive director of the climate adovacy group 350.org said in a statement. "Scott Pruitt not only fails to meet the basic criteria for the job — he’s fought this agency at every turn, and Oklahomans paid the price with their health and safety. For years, he’s been trying to hide his deep ties to Big Oil executives from the public. His confirmation is part of the Trump administration’s bigger plan to dismantle the EPA and stonewall climate action, but we won’t let them get away with it."
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Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA enacted a number of ambitious regulations to rein in emissions, make power plants more efficient, boost renewable energy, protect waterways and the air, and ensure that the country would meet the pledges made through the Paris climate agreement.
The agency often had to act without the full support of Congress, which obstructed Obama's efforts at broader climate change action.
This chapter of gradual progressivism could be undone under Pruitt, who has built a career around battling the very agency he is now in control of.
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As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt lodged lawsuit after lawsuit against the EPA, challenging everything from limits set on air and water pollution to limits set on power plant emissions.
Pruitt has said that he will fulfill the duties of the position, but it will likely be a diminishing set of duties as he gradually rolls back and suspends the agency's enforcement priorities.
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Trump's administration is avowedly anti-regulation. While the US won't be returning to the pre-EPA days of rampant pollution and environmental degradation, hindering the agency's capability couldn't come at a worse time.
The world needs to boldly confront climate change, not doubt its legitimacy.