Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, breaking with her party again, said Wednesday that she will vote against confirming Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Collins is the first Republican to publicly state she will vote against President Trump’s nominee, whose confirmation hearing is set for Friday.
Earlier this month, Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee to become secretary of education. Their opposition led to a 50-50 tie that forced Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of DeVos.
Maine’s senior senator said she met at length with Pruitt and reviewed testimony from his confirmation hearing before concluding that his vision of the environment and the role of the EPA differs from hers.
“After careful consideration, I have decided to oppose the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, the nominee for administrator of the EPA,” Collins said in a statement issued Wednesday evening. “The fact is, Mr. Pruitt and I have fundamentally different views of the role and the mission of the EPA. That does not mean that I agree with every regulatory action that EPA has taken.”
During his tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has sued the EPA multiple times, seeking to overturn the agency’s standards limiting mercury emissions from power plants, reductions in smog and haze, and controlling greenhouse gases – issues that Collins said are of “great importance to the state of Maine.”
IMPACT ON NOMINATION UNCLEAR
The state’s independent senator, Angus King, came out against Pruitt’s nomination last month, telling the Associated Press that he takes the environment seriously and “cannot approve the appointment of someone who is so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency.”
It was unclear Wednesday what effect Collins’ stance will have on Pruitt’s chances of confirmation. Although he will face stiff Democratic opposition in Friday’s vote, media outlets have reported that several Democratic senators facing re-election in states that favor the Oklahoma attorney general are expected to vote for him, meaning more Republicans would have to cross party lines to derail his nomination.
Collins’ stand against Pruitt drew praise from Maine environmental groups.
Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, applauded Collins and King for taking a stand against the “gutting of America’s health and environmental safeguards.”
Pohlmann said thousands of Mainers, from scientists and doctors to lobstermen, have expressed alarm that someone with Pruitt’s record could be chosen to lead an agency whose mission is to protect the environment. “Scott Pruitt is especially bad for Maine, where our economy, health and way of life depend on a clean environment,” Pohlmann said in a written statement. “Pollution from beyond our borders threatens our health, yet Scott Pruitt has been a champion for the polluting industries that send that pollution to Maine.”
“If confirmed, Scott Pruitt would be the most dangerous administrator to head the EPA in history,” Glenn Brand, director of the Sierra Club’s Maine Chapter, said Wednesday. “He denies climate change and has regularly conspired with the fossil fuel industry to attack lifesaving EPA public health protections. With his many conflicts of interest, he cannot be trusted to lead an agency that is charged with putting people, not polluters, first.”
In her statement, Collins said the EPA has been difficult to work with “at times” and “unresponsive” to bipartisan congressional concerns. “But the EPA plays a vital role in implementing and enforcing landmark laws that protect not only our environment but also public health,” she said.
Collins called Pruitt an accomplished attorney, but said his record raises several concerns. She pointed out that he has opposed and sued the EPA on “numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”
“His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment,” Collins said.
INFLUENCED BY FRIENDS OF ACADIA
Collins, a moderate, said Maine is at the end of our “nation’s air pollution tailpipe,” receiving wind-blown pollution from coal-fired plants in other states.
She said reduction of harmful air pollutants is critical for public health, particularly in Maine, which has one of the highest rates of asthma in the nation.
Setting controls for mercury, one of the most persistent and dangerous pollutants, is especially important for children and pregnant women, Collins said.
She said “there is no doubt” that the greenhouse gases driving climate change pose a significant threat to Maine’s economy and natural resources.
Collins mentioned that opposition to Pruitt expressed by the Friends of Acadia helped influence her decision. Friends of Acadia, with about 5,000 members nationwide, wrote a letter to Collins about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the negative effect those emissions are having on a national gem – Acadia National Park.
“I reject the false choice of pitting the environment against the economy because for much of the state of Maine, the economy and the environment are inextricably linked,” Collins said. “A strong commitment to protecting the health of our nation’s environment is critical for protecting Maine’s natural beauty, the state’s economy, and the health of those of us fortunate enough to call Maine home.”
Earlier this month, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee recommended approval of Pruitt as EPA administrator. The 11-0 vote sent the nomination to the full Senate, which is expected to vote on Pruitt’s confirmation Friday.
“The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses,” Pruitt was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Trump administration in December.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: