(Adds Oklahoma judge ruling that Pruitt must release emails)
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON Feb 16 The Senate on Thursday moved
closer to approving President Donald Trump's pick to head the
Environmental Protection Agency even as nearly 800 former
officials urged the chamber to reject the nominee, who sued the
agency more than a dozen times as attorney general of
The 773 former officials signed a letter sent to the Senate
that said Pruitt's record and public statements suggest he does
not agree with the underlying principles of U.S. environmental
laws. Pruitt has also cast doubts on the science of climate
"Mr. Pruitt has shown no interest in enforcing those laws, a
critically important function for EPA," the letter said.
A spokesman for Pruitt did not immediate respond to a
request for comment.
The Senate advanced Pruitt's nomination on Thursday,
clearing the way for a final vote, expected on Friday.
Republican Senator Susan Collins came out against Pruitt on
Wednesday, saying she had doubts about whether he would fully
support the EPA's mission to protect human health and the
But Pruitt only needs a simple majority for approval, so
unless Collins is joined by more Republicans, who control the
Senate 52 to 48, his nomination is likely to succeed.
Making Pruitt's chances even likelier, Senator Heidi
Heitkamp, a Democrat, said she would cast her for vote for him,
even though she had "concerns" about his commitment to renewable
power and to cut emissions blamed for climate change.
Joseph Santarella, an EPA enforcement lawyer under former
Republican and Democratic administrations, who signed the letter
protesting Pruitt, said his lawsuits against the agency
demonstrated he had "a fundamental lack of understanding and
respect for the vital role that EPA plays in ensuring clean air
and water for every American."
Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from coal-producing
Wyoming and head of the Senate energy committee, said Pruitt had
"led the charge to rein in big government and Washington
The public could soon learn more about Pruitt's
communications with energy companies while he was suing the EPA.
Oklahoma County District Court Judge Aletia Timmons ruled
that Pruitt will have to turn over 3,000 emails between his
office and energy companies to her by Tuesday. Timmons will
review the emails before deciding which of them to release.
A watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, has
sought the release of the documents since January 2015.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Andrew Hay and