Scott Pruitt, the pick to head up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has advanced closer to his confirmation vote, after Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved his nomination on Thursday.
And while that should leave any Obama-era EPA officials "very worried," as White House adviser and climate change denier Myron Ebell told the Guardian, the agency may be facing an even grimmer prospect—because President Donald Trump is reportedly taking steps to abolish the EPA entirely.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian on Thursday, Ebell, who headed up Trump's EPA transition team, said the president may start incrementally dismantling the EPA, as he determines what to do with the agency's various functions as assigned by Congress.
Research, reports, and data would not be removed from the EPA's website, but climate education material might be "withdrawn," Ebell said.
"The Trump administration has let the fossil fuel industry hijack the EPA in broad daylight."
—May Boeve, 350.org
"To abolish an agency requires not only thought but time because you have to decide what to do with certain functions that Congress has assigned to that agency," he said. "President Trump said during the campaign that he would like to abolish the EPA or 'leave a little bit'. It is a goal he has and sometimes it takes a long time to achieve goals. You can't abolish the EPA by waving a magic wand."
Whether the agency is dismantled entirely, left as a shell of itself, or set to operate under Pruitt's leadership, its future looks dire.
The environmental panel advanced Pruitt's nomination after the Republican chairman, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, suspended committee rules amid an ongoing Democratic boycott. The rules required at least two Democrats' presence to move forward with a vote. The Finance Committee employed a similar approach on Wednesday.
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Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said the opposing lawmakers were "wasting their lives" by boycotting.
Senate Democrats and environmental organizations waged a massive opposition campaign against the Oklahoma attorney general, who has had a major role in 14 lawsuits aimed at dismantling environmental regulations nationwide.
"The Trump administration has let the fossil fuel industry hijack the EPA in broad daylight," said May Boeve, executive director of the climate group 350.org, in response to the vote. "It's despicable but not surprising that members of Trump's party want a climate denier running the EPA."
But the fight is not over. Groups are now urging the full Senate to reject Pruitt's nomination.
Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), warned that "Pruitt will not carry out the job of EPA administrator to robustly enforce our environmental laws and ensure the clean air, clean water, and pristine lands that all Americans deserve. When the EPA doesn't do its job, American lives are put at risk."
"Pruitt's record gives us no reason to believe that he will vigorously hold polluters accountable or enforce the law," Kimmell said. "Senators need to vote no."