Durbin says he’ll vote against Scott Pruitt for EPA chief

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Sen. Dick Durbin on Monday said he would oppose President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. He was joined by supporters at a news conference at the offices of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times

Flanked by cheering environmental activists, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., announced Monday his opposition to President Donald Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Durbin also expressed concern about a matter of more local importance — the potential cutback of funds by the Trump administration for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program launched in 2010 to increase efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes. The effort has received strong bipartisan support in the Great Lakes region — Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“My fear is that [Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget] is going to make dramatic cuts … but let’s stay tuned, let’s wait,” Durbin said.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill., already had announced last week that she will not vote to confirm Pruitt as administrator of the EPA.

The crowd at Sierra Club Illinois’ headquarters, 70 E. Lake St., held signs declaring “Stop Pruitt,” “Protect Our Communities: Climate Action Now” and “We Are the Clean Energy Revolution.”

“He is a climate [change] denier. He is one who even questions the premise as to whether human activity is causing a change in the world we live in … and this is the man chosen by President Trump to run the number-one environmental protection agency in the world?” Durbin said.

The politically active Sierra Club supports action against climate change and generally backs Democratic candidates; that included endorsing Hillary Clinton last year.

Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, filed 14 lawsuits against the Obama administration over EPA actions; he opposes federal action on climate change, saying such matters should be left to the states.

“Ninety-eight percent of scientists agree [climate change and global warming is there,]” Durbin said. “Ninety-eight percent of scientists and the vast majority of Americans say ‘We should do what we can do to make this a better planet for our kids and for our grandchildren.’—But not Scott Pruitt.”

Durbin admitted the scenario looks favorable for Pruitt, unless more Republican senators change their minds and give him the negative vote.

“In terms of this nomination, I don’t know a single Republican yet who is breaking away from Scott Pruitt,” Durbin said. “His nomination is likely to be in the future and maybe by then other will break away but that’s where we stand.”

Charles Frank, Sierra Club’s national board director, called Pruitt “unacceptable” and urged people to speak out.

“We are living in unusual times,” Frank said. “There are many people with good intentions that have said to me ‘Well, let’s wait and see what this new administration does.’ We waited 18 days already. Anybody who has waited 18 days doesn’t need any more waiting. It is critical that people stand up for their values and their beliefs and not just sit back at home and watch this and let it happen. They have to speak out and find any possible way to say that the behavior of the current administration is unacceptable when they see it.”

So far, Democrats have failed to block any of Trump’s cabinet nominees. The most endangered is Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, whose confirmation vote is set for Tuesday. Vice President Mike Pence is likely to be needed to cast a Senate vote in order to get her confirmed.

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