Watchdogs Win Suit Seeking Records on EPA Nominee's Energy Industry Ties

But It May Be Too Late To Stop Scott Pruitt's Confirmation

Posted by Dale Eisman on February 16, 2017


environment

An Oklahoma judge today gave Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, until Tuesday to turn over up to 3,000 state records that document Pruitt’s contacts with energy companies and trade groups.

But by then, Pruitt, a longtime EPA antagonist now serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, may be installed as EPA administrator. The U.S. Senate is set to vote on his confirmation Friday. One Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, has announced she’ll oppose Pruitt and two Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin, have said they’ll support him; if the rest of the Senate divides along party lines, as expected, Pruitt will win confirmation with 53 votes.

As Oklahoma’s top lawyer, Pruitt has worked closely with energy companies while suing the E.P.A. at least 14 times to block major environmental regulations. He is an outspoken denier on human-caused global warming and helped craft a national legal effort to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s climate change policies.

Pruitt’s critics see the state records Pruitt was ordered to produce today as potential smoking guns in their fight to block his confirmation. They hope to force a delay in the vote to give them an opportunity to study the documents.

The Open Records Act lawsuit to force their release was filed by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a Wisconsin-based watchdog organization and frequent Common Cause ally.

Six senators wrote to the Oklahoma court on Wednesday, asserting they “have concluded [the] pending Open Records Act requests may be the only means by which the Senate and the general public can obtain in a timely manner critical information about Mr. Pruitt's ability to lead the EPA.

"We need to understand whether . . . Mr. Pruitt engaged with the industries that he will be responsible for regulating if he is confirmed as Administrator in ways that would compromise his ability to carry out his duties with the complete impartiality required," the senators added.

Responding to the CMD Open Records request, Pruitt submitted 411 documents last week relating to his energy industry contacts as attorney general. But CMD said that total fell far short of the 3,000 emails relevant to the request that Pruitt’s office earlier said it had located.

“The low number of records provided by Pruitt’s office is extremely concerning on its own,” said Nick Surgey, CMD’s research director. “But beyond the obvious omissions based on the document count, we are aware of 27 emails missing from this batch that directly relate to our request and which demonstrate Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry. If those emails have been omitted, what else is being withheld?  The Senate cannot properly vet Pruitt for EPA administrator if he is concealing information on conflicts of interest that would impact his ability to faithfully perform the EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment.”

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Office: Common Cause National, Common Cause Oklahoma

Issues: Ethics, Money in Politics

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