New US environmental agency chief to address staff amid fears of cuts
Director of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt is sworn in by Justice Samuel Alito (not pictured) at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S. February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, will address workers at the government body for the first time on Tuesday amid widespread expectations he intends to cut staff, budgets and climate change programs.

President Donald Trump's pick to head the EPA was confirmed by the Senate last week after hearings that focused on his record as Oklahoma Attorney General, where he sued the EPA more than a dozen times to stop its regulations.

Many Republican lawmakers view Pruitt as a refreshing change at the top of an agency they blame for federal overreach and for killing jobs in the coal and other industries.

But Democrats, environmental advocates, and many of the EPA's current and former staff worry his appointment as administrator of the agency will signal a reversal in America's progress cleaning up air and water and in leading the fight against global climate change.

Both Trump and Pruitt have expressed doubts about the science behind climate change, and Trump vowed during his campaign for the White House to pull the United States out of a global pact to combat it. Trump has also promised to slash environmental regulation to help bolster the drilling and mining industries, but to do so in a way that doesn't hurt air and water quality.

"These are interesting and worrying times," one current EPA official said, asking not to be named.

Ahead of Pruitt's nomination, some 800 former EPA staff signed a letter urging senators to reject him, and around 30 current EPA staff joined a protest set up by the environmental group Sierra Club in Chicago.

Democrats had also sought to delay his nomination over questions about his ties to the oil industry in Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, a state judge ruled last week that Pruitt will have to turn over thousands of emails between his office and energy companies by Tuesday after a watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, sued for their release.

The judge will review and perhaps hold back some of the emails before releasing them, a court clerk said.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by W Simon)