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Sparking 'The Fight of a Lifetime,' Senate Puts Fossil Fuel Ally at Helm of EPA

Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin, (W.Va.) joined Republicans to vote in favor of Scott Pruitt

 Demonstrators hold signs against Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the EPA. (Photo: Lorie Shaull/flickr/cc)

Portending risks to "the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we love," the U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The 52-46 vote comes a day after an Oklahoma judge said Pruitt was in violation of the state's Open Records Act and ordered the release of thousands of emails between his office and fossil fuel companies. Senate Democrats said that warranted a delay on Pruitt's confirmation, but Republicans pushed the vote ahead.

Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.) joined Republicans to vote in favor of Pruitt; thus, wrote Esquire's Charles Pierce, "we must assume that two Democratic senators think that having a climate denialist in charge of national environmental policy is a good deal." 

Manchin, for his part, was the sole Democrat to join Republicans to vote in favor of Steven Mnuchin heading the Treasury Secretary and confirm Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general. Republican Susan Collins (Maine), meanwhile, was the only Republican to vote against Pruitt.

Given the EPA's mission "to protect human health and the environment," Pruitt's strong ties to the fossil fuel industry, hostility to the very agency he now leads, and uncertainty on climate science had sparked fierce outcry from advocacy groups, EPA workers, and Democratic lawmakers.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), for one, described Pruitt as a "God awful nominee" who had "established himself as the tool and the minion of the fossil fuel industry," while Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) tweeted Friday that his "confirmation shows once again that Republicans will deny climate change and protect the interests of Big Oil at all costs."

Environmental groups reacted to Pruitt's confirmation with warnings over what having a "fossil fuel industry puppet" at the helm of the EPA would mean.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of advocacy group Food & Water Watch, for example, said the confirmation "begins the fight of a lifetime to protect public health, our environment, climate stability, and even the simple sanctity of the EPA itself."

Predicting Pruitt to "be the worst, most dangerous administrator in EPA history," Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, warned: "We'll be drinking dirtier water and breathing dirtier air because of this disturbing decision, and our wildlife and climate will pay a terrible price."

And for climate movement, it's important to see the latest development in the context of the Trump administration's greater attack on regulations, science, and the EPA itself

"[B]ut we won't let them get away with it," said executive director May Boeve. "The resistance to this administration's corruption and greed is growing, and we're coming together to fight the systems attempting to divide us and build the brighter world we know is possible."

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