(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Republicans rush to confirm Trump's EPA nominee Scott Pruitt after federal judge orders release of fossil fuel emails

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was ordered to reveal his fossil fuel communications — but not until Tuesday


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Sophia Tesfaye
February 17, 2017 11:50PM (UTC)

Senate Republicans were desperate to push through one of President Donald Trump's most controversial Cabinet nominees Friday without a complete vetting of his record — confirming EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, 52-46.

Late Thursday night, a judge in Oklahoma ordered thousands of letters between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies be made public. It's a request he's denied for more than two years until the judge said he must comply.

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But the records won't be released until Tuesday.

Republicans rushed to get Pruitt confirmed Friday by the Senate — before the release of his email records — despite Democrats' third attempt at an all-night talk-a-thon.

"We don't have all the information we need to make an informed vote on this nomination," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, told reporters during a press conference Friday. Merkley requested on the Senate floor Friday that the vote be delayed until all of Pruitt's emails are released, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was present in the nearly empty Senate chamber, and the Kentucky Republican objected to the request.

"Because I choose not to," McConnell said later when asked by reporters why he was unable to reschedule Pruitt's confirmation vote until after the release of his records.

"The effort has been to delay the nominations that they have made controversial as long as possible," McConnell complained of Democrats. "They want to have Pruitt out there over the recess so all their supporters can express themselves."

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Pruitt has been criticized for acting on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, which has helped finance his political career. He has a record of routinely suing the regulatory agency he is tasked to lead, challenging EPA rules on fracking, controls on pollution from power plants, limits on mercury emissions, and enhancing clean water regulations.

A 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times exposé revealed that then Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt copied and pasted letters and documents written by lobbyists of oil and gas companies who were big campaign contributors of his onto the official letterhead of his office — often to berate the EPA.  Since then, Pruitt has refused to answer public records requests. Yet during his confirmation process, Pruitt repeatedly told senators that any additional information about his work — particularly regarding his work on behalf of oil and gas companies in Oklahoma — could be obtained through an Open Records Act request to his office.

The Center for Media and Democracy, a left-leaning group that has several outstanding records requests before Pruitt’s office dating back to January 2015, filed suit last week after it became apparent that Republicans were intent on advancing Pruitt's nomination without a complete vetting of his record. According to the court filing, the CMD alleged that Pruitt and his office continued "to deny access to specific requested public records in violation of the Oklahoma Open Records Act" after it had filed more than eight requests.

Pruitt's office maintained that it had committed no wrongdoing and was only following the "first-come, first-served system," but Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons of the District Court in Oklahoma County described Pruitt's actions as an "abject failure to follow the law."

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Pruitt’s office released more than 400 documents to CMD last Friday, after the lawsuit was filed, and one showed Pruitt's chief of staff coordinated "soft ball" questions on water regulations from Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe during a congressional hearing.

After Friday's vote, the Republican chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works — John Barrasso, R-Wyoming — attend a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by energy lobbyists at a Capitol Hill steakhouse, the Intercept reported.

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota were the only Democrats voting yes, while Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine voted no.

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Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

MORE FROM Sophia TesfayeFOLLOW @SophiaTesfaye

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