In a move that will have wide-ranging repercussions for our region, President Trump prevailed Friday afternoon when the Senate voted to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency in a 52-46 vote. Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against him. But two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota, voted for him.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Senate minority leader, could not get his fellow Democrats’ support despite his party’s holding the floor Thursday night and Friday morning to block the confirmation vote. They were hoping to delay the vote in time for thousands of Pruitt’s emails to oil, gas and coal companies to become part of the public record against this nominee—who many opponents have called a pawn of the fossil-fuel industry. Indeed, some of his biggest backers have been the Koch brothers, who run the Kansas-based oil-and-chemical conglomerate.
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, in 13 of his 14 lawsuits against the EPA, Pruitt reportedly joined corporations and trade associations that had given generously to his political campaign. In his Senate testimony, he was confronted with a letter that he sent against the EPA that was almost entirely copied from a legal memo crafted by well-funded opponents of environmental regulation. He smiled.
Before the vote, Schumer spoke out vehemently against Pruitt’s nomination on the Senate floor, saying the Oklahoman was “clouded by potential conflicts of interest” and his views are “almost antithetical to the very purpose of the agency” he will now run.
Pruitt is a “climate science denier,” added Schumer. “This is not an issue where you can be skeptical. Either you accept the overwhelming opinion of climate scientists and researchers, or you don’t.”
He said the impact could hit Long Island hard, where Superstorm Sandy rocked the region.
“None of those residents, the thousands who lost homes, the hundreds of thousands who suffered injury, damage, economic problems from the flood, they don’t debate it, nor should he,” blasted Schumer. “There was no debate about what happened there. Folks lost everything that ever belonged to them. There was no debate about that. Forty-eight people in my state died. There was no debate about that.
“There is no debate that we have to do something about climate change,” he added. “Scott Pruitt, as head of our nation’s environmental protection agency, likely wouldn’t lift a finger.”
“I believe clean air and clean water are essential rights all Americans deserve, and they should never be sacrificed, especially for corporate profits,” said New York’s junior Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “And I have seen firsthand the devastation caused by climate change after New York lived through Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee. The EPA should be our first line of defense in protecting our air and water and combating global climate change. Unfortunately, in words and deeds, Mr. Pruitt has shown he does not share these values, and that is why I opposed his nomination to a department he has himself sued 14 times.”
On Long Island, the reaction from environmental activists was swift and to the point.
“Anyone who has described himself in his own biography as ‘a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda’ is singularly inappropriate to be America’s protector of air, land and water,” said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.
“Scott Pruitt’s record illustrates he’s more concerned with protecting corporate interest than protecting public interest,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “His record of pursuing over one dozen lawsuits attacking the EPA’s clean water and air regulations should be terrifying to every American. It took the environmental movement four decades to pass and implement the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. These landmark laws had bipartisan support.
“We’ve come too far to go back now,” she continued. “We cannot let the public’s air and water become polluted because of policies that favor corporate greed over public health. We will be vigilant about protecting our natural resources and the public’s health. It’s going to be a giant challenge.”
David Reisfield, executive director of Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, expressed his concern for the future of our region.
“Scott Pruitt’s history of suing the EPA to remove water and air quality protection in support of the oil and gas industry and his lack of environmental prosecution while attorney general for Oklahoma makes him the absolutely wrong person to be leading this country’s lead agency, which is entrusted with protecting the environment and human health,” he insisted. “With 43 Federal Superfund and RCRA sites on Long Island, each tainting our drinking water, we who get our water from a sole source aquifer cannot afford an administrator who has a history of siding with the polluters.”
Yet with Pruitt’s approval by the Senate, that’s exactly who President Trump has installed.