Pruitt email release confirms new EPA chief's close ties to fossil energy industry
- The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has released more than more than 7,500 pages of emails that show close coordination between Scott Pruitt, who held the office until he was confirmed to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and energy companies operating in the state.
- The emails confirm earlier findings that showed Pruitt's office coordinated with fossil energy companies to combat Obama administration environmental rules, including holding secret strategy meetings and collaborating on comment letters to the federal EPA. Pruitt also solicited donations from Oklahoma energy companies through a political action committee during his time as the state's top lawyer.
- Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate last week to head the EPA, despite calls to delay a vote until the emails could be examined. They were released as a result of an Open Records Act request and lawsuit filed by the Center for Media and Democracy.
Cooperation between interest groups and government officials is well-worn ground, with fossil fuels companies and environmentalists alike often weighing in on energy policy proposals and bill language.
But the latest round of Pruitt emails has critics charging that the fossil energy industry was doing more than offering advice to the Oklahoma AG's office, and was instead a key collaborator on policy strategy and statements.
In particular, the emails shed light on the close relationship between Devon Energy and Pruitt's office, showing that oil and gas producer assisted the Attorney General in drafting language to challenge methane emission rules from the EPA and Bureau of Land Management.
That relationship goes back years: In 2014, the New York Times reported Pruitt's office had placed policy letters written by Devon on the Attorney General's letterhead before sending them to the federal government as state comments.
This batch of emails shows further that Pruitt staffers corresponded with Devon and other companies — including utility American Electric Power — to combat methane rules and other EPA regulations like the regional haze rule.
In his confirmation hearing, Pruitt told senators that the collaboration with industry was appropriate and aligns with his "view of representative government." He also acknowledged raising money from fossil energy companies through political action committees during his time as AG.
In written responses to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Pruitt conceded he had "on occasion solicited funds for Liberty 2.0," a political action committee which receives nearly half its funding from the energy industry.
The emails did not appear to reveal any explicit requests for campaign contributions in exchange for policy action, but the New York Times notes Pruitt was simultaneously working as a member of the Republican Attorneys General Association to attract funding from some of the same companies.
Environmentalists and open government groups lambasted Republican efforts to confirm Pruitt to the EPA before the latest round of emails were released. Pruitt was confirmed 52-46 last week, the day after an Oklahoma judge ordered the release of the emails.
Now the nation's leading environmental regulator, Pruitt will be charged with regulating many of the companies he collaborated with as Oklahoma's top lawyer. In that job, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, challenging the Clean Power Plan, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and methane rules, among other regulations.
In his hearings, Pruitt said those challenges were about federal overreach and did not indicate a belief that the federal EPA should not regulate harmful pollutants. He upheld the EPA's legal obligation to regulate carbon and mercury under the Clean Air Act, and said he saw "no reason" to review the EPA's 2009 endangerment finding on carbon.
That stance implies that Pruitt's EPA would have to issue new rules to control carbon emissions from the power sector if the Trump administration rescinds the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt reportedly prepared an alternative to the CPP in 2014 as Oklahoma's top lawyer, but whether his EPA will attempt to draft such a rule now appears in question.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the new EPA administrator said it's a "fair question" whether the EPA even has the "tools" to regulate carbon from the power sector, implying a legislative fix may be needed.
- The Hill New EPA chief’s emails reveal coordination with oil interests
- The New York Times The Pruitt Emails: E.P.A. Chief Was Arm in Arm With Industry
- Center for Media and Democracy The Pruitt Emails
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