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.
Trump's nominee, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is likely to pass the vote scheduled for midday with the support of nearly all the Republicans in the Republican-controlled Senate. The vote could take place earlier in the day.
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 top of the EPA, an agency they say declared war on the coal industry during Barack Obama's presidency with its rules against carbon emissions.
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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 domestic environment and international efforts to curb climate change.
"He has not been at all committed to the United States' programs on dealing with climate change let alone our international responsibilities to lead other countries to do what they need to do," Cardin said on the Senate floor.
Pruitt only 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.
In addition, one Democrat, Heidi Heitkamp, said on Thursday she would vote for Pruitt despite her concerns about his support for renewable energy like wind and solar power, and for cutting emissions blamed for global warming. If there were a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would vote to break it.
If Pruitt is approved, Trump is expected to quickly issue two to five executive orders to reshape the EPA, sources said.
Trump has promised to slash environmental rules as a way to bolster the drilling and coal mining industries, but has vowed to do so without compromising air and water quality. The White House web site says lifting policies such as Obama's Climate Action Plan would help U.S. workers and raise wages.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Andrew Hay)