EPA chief Pruitt to recuse himself from lawsuits he brought as Oklahoma AG

Dive Brief:

  • Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will recuse himself from legal cases he brought against the agency in his earlier job as attorney general of Oklahoma, E&E News reported last week. 
  • Pruitt brought legal action against the federal EPA 14 times as Oklahoma's top law enforcement officer, including high-profile ongoing court battles over the Clean Power Plan, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and Waters of the United States rules.
  • In a memo, Pruitt said would not be involved in cases involving his former clients and employers after discussions with the EPA ethics office. The memo also reportedly outlined a "screening arrangement" in which the EPA chief of staff will evaluate all existing litigation to check for potential ethical violations. 

Dive Insight:

A four-page memo obtained by E&E News last week reportedly outlined a list of cases from which Pruitt will recuse himself, including power sector regulatory challenges and the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal.

“To demonstrate my profound commitment to carrying out my ethical responsibilities, while I am the Administrator of the [EPA], I will not participate in any active cases in which Oklahoma is a party, petitioner or intervenor,” Pruitt wrote in the memo. “I understand that this commitment is longer than is required by the federal impartiality standards, but I am taking this action to avoid even the appearance of any impropriety under federal ethics or professional responsibility obligations.”

Those cases reportedly include challenges to the CPP, MATS standards, ozone regulations, and the WOTUS rule. The D.C. Circuit Court put litigation on each of those rules on hold last month, pending reviews by the Trump administration.

Reports of Pruitt's recusal come after repeated calls from Congressional Democrats that the EPA administrator step aside when it comes to legal challenges he signed onto as Oklahoma AG. 

During his confirmation hearing, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) pressed Pruitt on whether he would recuse himself from the cases. Pruitt told lawmakers he would step aside "if directed to do so."

While Pruitt will not take part in legal challenges, the Washington Post notes he will not recuse himself from rulemaking processes at EPA, meaning he will still direct the reviews of the CPP and other Obama-era regulations. Last week, the EPA administrator voiced concerns that too many coal-fired power plants are retiring early, potentially posing a threat to electric power reliability

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Filed Under: Regulation & Policy
Top image credit: Gage Skidmore