Senate confirms Trumps EPA pick, Scott Pruitt, as White House seeks to curtail regulations

Former N.C. environment official, Donald van der Vaart, in the running for a top spot on Pruitts leadership team

Joshua Roberts—Reuters
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday. Senators voted 52-46 to approve Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whom Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican and the head of the chamber’s environment committee, said would reform and modernize the EPA.Republicans have said the agency has killed jobs in coal and in oil drilling by limiting emissions, and nearly all Republican senators voted for him and two Democrats from energy-producing states, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, approved Trump’s choice as well.The rest of the Democrats and green groups objected, worried he will gut the agency, as the administration readies executive orders to ease regulation on drillers and miners. Pruitt is expected to be sworn in quickly and next Trump likely will issue executive orders to reshape the EPA, sources said.Pruitt’s nomination was controversial in liberal circles. He sued the agency he intends to lead more than a dozen times while top prosecutor of his oil and gas producing state, and has expressed doubts about the human contribution to climate change. He also opposed former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan that intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal- and natural gas-burning plants. The plan was put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court after Oklahoma and 24 other states sued to block it.Democrats held an all-night session on Pruitt Thursday, and tried to extend debate on Pruitt until late February, when emails between him and energy companies will likely be released under a judge’s order. An Oklahoma court ruled this week that Pruitt will have to turn over 3,000 emails between his office and energy companies by Tuesday after a watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, sued for their release.The confirmation comes after staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed Wednesday that they have been told Trump is preparing a handful of executive orders to reshape the agency, to be signed once a new administrator is confirmed.A senior EPA official who had been briefed by members of the Trump administration mentioned the executive orders at a meeting of staffers in the EPA’s Office of General Counsel on Tuesday, but did not provide details about what the orders would say, said the sources, who asked not to be named.”It was just a heads-up to expect some executive orders, that’s it,” one of the sources said.The second source said attendees at the meeting were told Trump would sign between two and five executive orders.Trump administration officials did not respond to requests for comment.Trump has promised to cut U.S. environmental rules as a way to bolster the drilling and coal mining industries, but has vowed to do so without compromising air and water quality.The meeting came as Republicans in Congress prepare for a cold welcome for Pruitt at EPA. On Tuesday, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, asked the EPA’s inspector general to investigate whether EPA staff were using encrypted messages to coordinate efforts to derail the new administration’s agenda, in possible violation of federal records laws.Pruitt is expected to be sworn in quickly and top agency leadership choices may soon follow. One North Carolinian in the running is Donald R. van der Vaart, former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Van der Vaart is in the final vetting stage for deputy EPA administrator under Pruitt.Van der Vaart earned his bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill, his master’s degree in chemical engineering from NC State, and a doctorate in the same field from Cambridge. He also holds a law degree from N.C. Central. Supporters of van der Vaart say his reformist nature, and frequent criticism of federal environmental policy mandates, make him a good fit for a Trump administration intent on reducing government regulations.