Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine said Thursday that he will vote against President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
King says he sat through Pruitt’s confirmation hearings on Wednesday as an audience member, did some additional research and came to the conclusion that the Oklahoma attorney general’s anti-regulatory positions are to the point of “undermining the fundamental mission of the agency.”
Pruitt’s nomination to head the EPA has been controversial from the start. He has filed suit against the agency 14 times, has opposed the Clean Power Plan, disputed the Clean Air Act’s authority and opposed rules that require coal-fired plants to cut their mercury emissions by 90 percent.
King says there’s no record that he can find of Pruitt being “affirmative and strong” in enforcing environmental laws as attorney general.
“My fundamental problem with him is that he just doesn’t believe in the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency,” he says.
During his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Pruitt was grilled over a series of letters he sent to federal agencies on state stationery that were critical of the economic effects of environmental rules and drafted, almost word for word, by energy lobbyists. King says that bothers him.
“In fact, this morning, I went back and read one of those letters that was drafted entirely by an energy company,” he says. “Out of 1,000 words, I think he changed 37 and most of them were pretty inconsequential.”
During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt did back away slightly from previous statements he has made about the human role in climate change. He told the committee that “scientists tell us the climate is changing and human activity, in some manner, impacts that change.”
But King calls that a “lukewarm statement” and says many of Trump’s nominees are using similar language that he says sounds like a scripted response. For all of these reasons, King says he’ll vote against Pruitt’s nomination.
“I just can’t, in good conscience, as somebody’s who’s taken seriously environmental protection all my life, approve the appointment of someone who is so manifestly opposed, as I say, to the mission of the agency,” he says.
Environmental groups are now calling on Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to follow King’s lead in rejecting Pruitt for the EPA post. For inspiration, Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says Collins and others can look at what happened to Anne Gorsuch Burford, President Ronald Reagan’s choice to run the agency in the early 1980s.
“She was patently unqualified for the position, pursued an agenda that was aimed directly like Scott Pruitt’s, at eviscerating the agency, and there was such a national outpouring of rage and opposition that she left her post in 1983,” he says.
Burford was actually forced to resign after she refused to turn over Superfund records and was cited for contempt by Congress.
In Maine, Didisheim says environmental protection has always been a bipartisan issue. And that’s why Bill Mook of Mook’s Sea Farm in Walpole says he’ll hold Collins accountable if she supports Pruitt.
Mook says he’s voted for Collins many times in the past.
“If she supports this nomination, I would not only not vote for her again, I would actively campaign against her,” he says.
Collins could not be reached for comment, but her spokesperson Annie Clark said Collins met with Pruitt earlier this month and will be begin to review his confirmation testimony over the weekend.