Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has had more than 7,500 emails and other records released by the Oklahoma attorney general’s office.
- Pruitt confirmed as EPA administrator on Friday.
- An Oklahoma judge ordered that emails from a January 2015 open records request were to be released.
- An additional batch is due to be released next week.
- Pruitt has touted himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and sued the regulator 14 times over pollution regulations relating to mercury, smog, methane and sulfur dioxide.
The emails highlight the close ties between Pruitt and fossil fuel interests, including the Koch brothers, the billionaire energy investors who have spent decades fighting against environmental regulation.
In his confirmation hearing last month, Senate Democrats pushed Pruitt on political donations he had received in the past from companies such as Devon Energy and Exxon Mobil, and additional “dark money” that is funnelled to groups not required to disclose their donors.
“The emails show a very cosy relationship between Pruitt’s office and particularly Devon Energy, as well as other coal, oil and gas companies,” said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy.
“Pruitt is the world’s top environmental regulator now and these emails raise serious conflict of interest concerns. He has very close ties to fossil fuel firms and has shown himself to be generally opposed to the rules the EPA has to protect the environment.”
Scott Pruitt wants to destroy the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. pic.twitter.com/pdOf5gxHWs
— RogelioGarcia Lawyer (@LawyerRogelio) February 23, 2017
What is in the release?
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt evidently acted in sync with oil and gas companies, challenging environmental regulations and even attaching his letterhead to a complaint filed by Devon Energy. This was first revealed in 2014, but now it is clear that it has happened on several occasions.
American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, an oil and gas lobby group, provided Pruitt with a template to oppose ozone limits and the renewable fuel standard program. AFPM encouraged Oklahoma to challenge the rules, noting: “This argument is more credible coming from a state.” Later that year, Pruitt did file opposition to both of these regulations.
Emails highlight the cosy relationship between Pruitt and the American Legislative Exchange Council (the influential US lobbying network of Republican politicians and big businesses), and other lobby groups sponsored by the Koch brothers. ALEC has consistently fought against tougher regulation and challenged scientists on climate change.
— Ben Walsh (@BenDWalsh) February 22, 2017
The emails contain correspondence between Pruitt’s executive assistant and Amy Anderson, ALEC director and Oklahoma membership contact, about Pruitt’s appearance at a May 2013 Alec board meeting in Oklahoma City.
That meeting attracted more protesters than attendees, with 600 firefighters, teachers, environmentalists and church leaders carrying signs reading “ALEC is Not OK” and chanting: “Backroom deals are ALEC’s game / Sweetheart deals for corporate gain.” Pruitt addressed a workshop entitled “Embracing American Energy Opportunities: From Wellheads to Pipelines”.
Pruitt was congratulated for his work on pushing back against the EPA by another Koch-backed pressure group.
“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit group also funded in part by the Kochs. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.
Opposition from all angles, except Republican politicians
Pruitt’s appointment might be one of Trump’s most controversial, as a man who has spent his political life suing the EPA and trying to close it down. More than 700 former EPA employees wrote to senators to urge them to vote against Pruitt. Some staff in Chicago took part in protests against him.
John O’Grady, an EPA environmental scientist and head of a union that represents 9,000 agency staff, said, “Mr Pruitt isn’t a proponent of addressing climate change or of a strong EPA, so it won’t surprise me when they start to whittle away at what we do as an agency. I’m wondering when the hammer is going to fall.”
But of course, as with many of Trump’s nominations, the Senate voted down party lines and mathematics cannot be beaten. Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against Pruitt.
Pruitt sued the EPA repeatedly. Pruitt has ties to the oil & gas industry. Pruitt is unfit to lead the EPA. Republicans approved him anyway
— Edward Hardy (@EdwardTHardy) February 23, 2017
Many staff are anxiously waiting on Trump’s agenda to become clear, with the President expected to sign executive orders that aim to stop the EPA’s efforts in reducing greenhouse gases and regulating America’s expanse of waterways.
Following the confirmation, the EPA released a statement listing those that “cheer” Pruitt’s appointment. They include Republican representatives and lobbyists for mining, farming and grazing, who were quoted in the EPA’s own release calling the agency “rogue” and “one of the most vilified agencies in the ‘swamp’ of overreaching government”.
In his confirmation speech, Pruitt did not mention climate change, and added: “I believe that we as a nation can be both pro-energy and -jobs, and pro-environment. We don’t have to choose between the two.”
Pruitt says he believes we can be pro-energy & pro-environment w/o having to choose. I agree, but it has to be green energy. Oil is death.
— Alternative NOAA (@altNOAA) February 23, 2017