Climate sceptic gets nod to be environment chief

Mr Pruitt, as attorney-general for the oil-producing state of Oklahoma, has filed or joined in more than a dozen law suits to block key EPA regulations.
Mr Pruitt, as attorney-general for the oil-producing state of Oklahoma, has filed or joined in more than a dozen law suits to block key EPA regulations.

US Senate confirms fossil fuel ally who sued agency he now heads

WASHINGTON • The US Senate has confirmed fossil fuel ally and global warming sceptic Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), installing a legal expert at the helm of a department he has repeatedly sued.

President Donald Trump's pick to head the EPA was among the most contentious of his Cabinet choices.

The vote came after Democrats held the Senate floor for hours overnight on Thursday and then through the morning to criticise Mr Pruitt and push for a last-minute delay of his confirmation.

Part of their argument centred on an Oklahoma judge's ruling late on Thursday that Mr Pruitt's office must turn over thousands of e-mails related to his communication with oil, gas and coal companies.

The judge set a Tuesday deadline for release of the e-mails.

Mr Pruitt was confirmed largely along party lines, 52 to 46 - a relief for the White House two days after Mr Trump's nominee for secretary of labour withdrew amid business and personal controversy.

As attorney-general for the oil- producing state of Oklahoma, the 48-year-old Republican has filed or joined in more than a dozen law suits to block key EPA rules, siding with industry executives and those seeking to roll back regulations on pollution, clean air and clean water.

He assumes control of an agency that under former president Barack Obama was responsible for implementing sweeping environmental regulations governing clean air and water, greenhouse gases and vehicle fuel emissions.

But rolling back the environmental actions of the previous administration will not happen quickly or easily. Even if President Trump issues executive orders aimed at undoing the Obama initiatives to combat climate change, oversee waterways and wetlands and slash pollution from power plants - as he is expected to do as early as this week - existing regulations would not disappear overnight.

To reverse or revamp existing rules around vehicle fuel standards, mercury pollution or a range of other environmental issues, Mr Pruitt would have to repeat the lengthy bureaucratic process that generated them. Other initiatives, such as the Clean Power Plan, aimed at regulating emissions from power plants, remain tied up in federal courts.

In addition, the new EPA chief will encounter a workforce on edge, in which some employees are wary about the direction he plans to take the agency and fearful he might adhere more to ideology than science.

Environmental groups also are likely to oppose him at every turn, eager to sue over any rollback of existing regulations.

For his part, Mr Pruitt has said he intends to return the agency to its central mission of protecting the quality of the nation's air and water while respecting the role of states as primary enforcers of environmental laws.

During his confirmation hearing, Mr Pruitt countered critics who see him as a climate sceptic, telling senators that "human activity in some manner" affects climate change.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Climate sceptic gets nod to be environment chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe