- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2017

Giving new fuel to critics who are demanding Senate leaders halt a vote on his confirmation to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt late Thursday was ordered by an Oklahoma judge to turn over thousands of unseen emails related to his communications with the oil-and-gas industry.

The decision from Oklahoma District Court Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons came hours after Mr. Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, cleared a preliminary vote in the Senate with support strongly breaking along party lines.

All but two of the 48 members of the Democratic caucus voted against Mr. Pruitt in Thursday’s vote, citing, among other things, the fact that he’d withheld nearly 3,000 emails that detractors say will show clear collusion with the fossil fuels sector.

SEE ALSO: Senate Dems hold floor, demand delay on EPA nominee Scott Pruitt until his emails are released

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, on Thursday said Republicans were executing an “epic ram-job” to get Mr. Pruitt through the Senate before the emails come to light.

Despite those claims, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said Thursday night that Friday’s vote will go ahead as scheduled, though the calls to delay that vote will only grow over the next day. Mr. Pruitt must turn over the emails by Tuesday, according to the judge’s order.

Scott Pruitt and Senate Republicans have made a mockery of the confirmation process, permitting the nominee to escape scrutiny and hide his deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. What is he hiding in all of these emails?” Melinda Pierce, legislative director at the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

“The vote to confirm Pruitt must now be delayed until every senator can see just who Pruitt is and what he will do if permitted to run the EPA,” she said.

The judge’s order comes in response to open-records requests from the Center for Media and Democracy, which has been seeking the emails since 2015. So far, Mr. Pruitt has provided only about 411 of the 3,000 emails requested, according to the group.

In the order, Judge Timmons said there is “no reasonable explanation” why Mr. Pruitt hasn’t turned over the documents. Critics say the emails will show the former attorney general often has, in essence, done the bidding of the oil-and-gas industry.

As an example, they point to a 2011 letter Mr. Pruitt sent to the EPA charging that the agency had greatly overestimated the air pollution caused by natural gas drilling. Much of the language in the letter appears to have been written by Devon Energy, a leading Oklahoma energy company.

In testimony before the Senate last month, Mr. Pruitt didn’t dispute using the company’s language in the letter, but said that his job was to represent industry in his state, including oil companies.

“That was an effort that was protecting the state’s interest,” he told a Senate panel Jan. 18. “It was particular to an industry … There was concern expressed by that industry.”

If the vote goes ahead as scheduled Friday, Mr. Pruitt likely will win confirmation. Two Democrats — Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — have said they’ll vote to confirm him and did so in Thursday’s preliminary vote.

At least one Republican will oppose Mr. Pruitt in Friday’s final vote, though five would need to for the nomination to be rejected.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, voted in favor of Mr. Pruitt’s nomination in Thursday’s procedural vote, but said she’ll vote “no” during final approval on Friday.

“I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” she said in a statement. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.”

Mr. Pruitt, who built his political career largely off of battling the EPA in court, will assume his position amid fears he’ll essentially dismantle the very agency he’s set to lead. Democrats fear Mr. Pruitt, at the direction of President Trump, will pursue policies that will defang the EPA and roll back key environmental protections.

“Donald Trump has made clear his job, his goal, is to degrade, to destroy, the Environmental Protection Agency,” Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, said on the Senate floor just before Thursday’s vote. “With the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, it’s clear” he intends to follow through on that goal.

Mr. Pruitt’s Republican supporters counter that the EPA had become an out-of-control regulatory behemoth under former President Obama and must be reined in.

“For the last eight years, the political leaders of this agency have been reckless, irresponsible, and arrogant. Change is badly needed at the Environmental Protection Agency and Scott Pruitt will be that change,” Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Under his leadership, this agency will respect the rule of law.”

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