Wyoming senators back Pruitt, repeal Obama regulation

February 3, 2017 GMT

The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, led by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, of Wyoming, confirmed former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday after it suspended its election rules to bypass a Democratic boycott.

“We took this extraordinary step because the minority took the extraordinary step of boycotting the meeting,” Barrasso said after announcing suspension of the rules. “I believe no one is served, no environmental goal is achieved, by acting in this obstructionist way.”

Without the 10 Democratic members voting, Pruitt was confirmed 11-0. The general Senate confirmation is expected to take place next week.

“Attorney General Pruitt is the right person to lead the EPA,” Barrasso said following the vote. “He is committed to ensuring clean water, land and air for all Americans while pursuing policies that allow our economy to grow. Our committee shares those goals, and I am glad we have taken action to move his nomination forward.”

Much of the controversy surrounding Pruitt’s nomination was focused on 14 lawsuits that Pruitt either led or was part of, which aimed to block EPA regulations on air, water and climate change.

Democrats within the environmental committee said they refused to vote on Pruitt’s confirmation because, in their opinion, he did not sufficiently answer questions regarding his history of combating environmental rules, often replying, “If confirmed, I commit to faithfully execute the law as enacted by Congress.”

The Senate also repealed a stream protection rule on Thursday that updated old regulations “to prevent or minimize impacts to surface water and groundwater from coal mining,” by increasing regulatory standards and demands for reclamation.

The rule was finalized in the final month of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Barrasso called it “a major victory for coal country” to repeal Obama’s “midnight regulation.”

Aside from reviewing the legality of environmental regulations, Pruitt has no environmental background to speak of. As such it is difficult to tell what kind of leadership role he would assume, or if he would merely look to take direction from the Executive Office and Congress.

“If confirmed, I will work to achieve the objectives of EPA-administered laws consistent with the process and framework established by Congress,” Pruitt said during his confirmation hearings. “I will work closely with the states in establishing and implementing regulatory standards to ensure a meaningful and effective advancement of these objectives.”

Some environmental organizations are wary.

“Without clean air and clean water Greater Yellowstone would not be home to blue-ribbon trout streams, productive ag lands, and spectacular mountain views,” said Scott Christensen, the director of conservation for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

“The EPA plays a key role in safeguarding these core values that people from all political stripes support,” Christensen said. “Scott Pruitt’s record of attacking the EPA should motivate everyone who cares about clean air and clean water in Greater Yellowstone and beyond to stand up for these vital features that make living in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho so great.”

Throughout the 2016 campaign and after his Nov. 8 victory Trump said he would work to defund much of the EPA if not eliminate it entirely.

Regarding the Senate’s repeal of the stream protection regulation, Barrasso said it would benefit the state he represents.

“Today, the Senate delivered a major victory for coal country,” Barrasso said. “The Obama administration’s flawed stream rule ignored the input of state regulators and put thousands of jobs in jeopardy… I look forward to working with Congress and the Trump administration to repeal more midnight regulations like this one.”

Senator Mike Enzi echoed his colleague’s sentiment.

It’s expected many of Obama’s climate protection laws, like caps on carbon emissions and leases for mineral extraction, will be reviewed by congress in the coming months.