USA Politics First Look

Suspending rules, Senate committee pushes Pruitt nomination forward

A Senate committee has approved Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator, voting to send his nomination to the full Senate.

Trump's EPA Administrator-design­ate, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, testifies on Capitol Hill at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jan. 18.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
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[Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:30 p.m.]

On Thursday, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee approved President Trump’s nominee for the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. The vote now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats boycotted the committee vote on Mr. Pruitt's nomination in hopes of stopping its forward movement. Republicans responded by suspending committee rules in order to continue with the vote.

Environmental groups have staunchly opposed Pruitt’s nomination, citing his views on climate change and his participation in more than a dozen lawsuits against EPA regulations. A fossil fuel advocate, he has questioned the consensus that climate change is caused by humans, as The Christian Science Monitor's Zack Colman reported in December, and has vocally opposed what he considers unduly burdensome regulations on the energy industry.

When Democrats boycotted Thursday’s meeting in protest, the Republicans temporarily suspended the rule requiring the presence of at least two Democrats to hold a vote.

“I am disappointed that our majority has decided to ignore our concerns and those of the American people, and suspend the Committee's rules in an effort to expedite Mr. Pruitt's nomination,” wrote the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware.

Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming, the chair of the committee, justified moving Pruitt's nomination forward by saying that "Elections have consequences and a new president is entitled to put in place people who advance his agenda," as Reuters reports.

The nomination now heads to an up-down vote in the Republican-controlled full Senate, which will most likely confirm Pruitt, according to The New York Times.

Even in that case, however, the agency might not immediately drop its Obama-era commitments, as the Monitor reported in December:

Scott Pruitt, the nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is just one man who, if confirmed by the Senate, will be steering a very, very large ship – one with more than 15,000 employees spread throughout the country.

That fact points to a reality facing the EPA and other federal agencies: The person at the top can do some steering, but the ship tends to have some persistent momentum of its own.

Donald Trump may have been elected partly on the resonance of his throw-the-bureaucrats-out attitude. And his pick for EPA, Mr. Pruitt, is known as an Oklahoma fossil-fuel advocate and an attorney general who has fought environmental regulations. By all signs, agency budget cuts and a regulatory rollback are coming.

But if history is any guide, another mind-set also matters – that of the career staffers who have seen political appointees come and go with regularity. They tend to stick to their knitting, enforce existing laws, and carry on with routines that predate any one administration.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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