Senate confirms Scott Pruitt as EPA chief despite concerns

WASHINGTON (KTVU) -- President Donald Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency was confirmed Friday by the U.S. Senate despite massive opposition from Democrats, environmental activists and environmental scientists who signed a petition opposing the nominee.

Scott Pruitt, 48, was a Republican attorney who served six years as Oklahoma attorney general.

In that role, he sued the EPA 14 times. Now, he will become the EPA's top administrator.

Republicans said he will help reign in the agency, which they say diminishes the power of states.

The confirmation vote was 52-46, with support from Senate Republicans and two Democrats from coal mining states, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

The Sierra Club, other environmental groups, and Senate Democrats held an all-out, all-night effort to delay the vote until Pruitt's court-ordered deadline next week to release some 3,000 emails he exchanged with oil and gas executives, some of whom reportedly donated to his political campaigns.

Pruitt has expressed doubt about human impact on global warming.

During his confirmation hearing Pruitt said he would adhere to the rule of law.

"The law is static not transient," he said. "Regulators are supposed to make things regular, to fairly and equitably enforce the rules and not pick winners and losers."

UC Berkeley environmental law professor Dan Farber says Pruitt's lawsuits challenged EPA regulations on carbon emissions and wastewater cleanup.

"Some of those lawsuits are still out there so he's going to be in the position of supposedly leading the agency in defending or responding to lawlsuits he himself was involved in," Farber said.

Farber says as head of the EPA, Pruitt won't be able to change the laws.

"In the area of regulation, he's very much subject to oversight by the courts," Farber said, noting there are other ways, however, that Pruitt can scale back the EPA's reach.

"He can cut back on the size of the enforcement division," Farber said. "That happened before under Bush to the point where really they're just not in the position to really be out there enforcing the law."

Despite reports of concern by EPA scientists, the official Twitter page on Friday had a posted message saying: "We’d like to congratulate Mr. Pruitt on his confirmation! We look forward to welcoming him to EPA."

Pruitt is expected to address the EPA employees on Tuesday Feb. 21, following the holiday weekend.

By KTVU reporter Jana Katsuyama.