WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate is expected to approve President Donald Trump's pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday over the objections of Democrats and green groups worried he will gut the agency, as the administration readies executive orders to ease regulation on drillers and miners.
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Trump's nominee, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is likely to pass the vote, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) on Friday, with the support of nearly all the Republicans in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Pruitt's nomination has been controversial in progressive circles. He sued the agency he intends to lead more than a dozen times while top prosecutor of his oil and gas producing state, and has expressed doubts about the science behind climate change. But many Republican lawmakers view him as a welcome change at the EPA, an agency they say declared war on the coal industry during Barack Obama's presidency with rules against carbon emissions.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said on Thursday he was concerned Pruitt's opposition to Obama's landmark Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from coal and natural gas burning plants would hurt the environment and U.S. leadership in international efforts to curb climate change.
Other opponents of Pruitt's nomination have expressed concerns about his ties to the energy industry. An Oklahoma court this week ruled Pruitt will have to turn over 3,000 emails between his office and energy companies by Tuesday after a watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, sued for their release.
Democrats said the Senate would vote at 12:30 p.m. EST on extending the debate over Pruitt until Feb. 27, a move expected to fail.
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell had moved to "strap blinders" on his fellow Republicans by not waiting for the release of Pruitt's emails.
Pruitt needs 51 votes in the 100-member chamber to be approved. Nearly all 52 Republicans, except Senator Susan Collins, who announced her opposition on Wednesday, are expected to vote for him.
Two Democrats from energy-producing states, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, are expected to vote for Pruitt.
Trump likely will issue executive orders to reshape the EPA if his pick is approved, sources said.
Trump has promised to slash environmental rules as a way to bolster drilling and coal mining but has vowed to do so without compromising air and water quality.
(By Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Bill Trott)