Judge orders release of EPA nominee’s emails

A state judge Thursday ordered Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office to turn over what could be thousands of documents to a liberal group that has sought them for two years.

The order came a day before the Senate plans to vote on confirming Pruitt to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a post President Trump nominated him for in December.

Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons, based in Oklahoma City, ordered the release of up to 3,000 documents by Tuesday in response to a request by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act, E&E News reported.

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The group had sought his office’s communications with various fossil fuel and conservative interests. It sued earlier this month to fight the two-year wait, which Pruitt’s office had blamed on a backlog.

Senate Democrats had used the emails and their pending release to repeatedly push Republican leaders to delay a vote on Pruitt, until after the documents could be released and senators could review them.

Earlier Thursday, Democrats accused the GOP of rushing through Pruitt’s nomination in order to appease Trump and fossil fuel interests.

“Clearly, this is an epic ram-job,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseFive takeaways from the Scott Pruitt emails A guide to the committees: Senate Pruitt confirmation sets stage for Trump EPA assault MORE (D-R.I.) told reporters.

“The public has a right to know what is in all of those emails,” said Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyDemocrats should get on board with repeal of FCC privacy rules Senate Dems hit FCC chairman on consumer data risks Dems rip Trump administration for revoking Obama's transgender directive MORE (D-Mass.). “They have a right to know what the record is of the chief protector of the environment in the United States.”

Democrats had asked Pruitt for the documents as part of his confirmation process, but he declined and asked the senators to file public records requests themselves.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoLawmakers fundraise amid rising town hall pressure EPA delays rule on mining cleanup funding EPA head previously used private email for government business MORE (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, slammed the Democrats’ actions.

“Democrats have even complained that he has not been vetted thoroughly enough,” he said on the Senate floor. "That’s ridiculous. Scott Pruitt is the most thoroughly vetted nominee we've ever had to lead this agency.”

He accused the Democrats of doing “nothing more than political theater.”

In a court filing earlier Thursday, Pruitt’s office said CMD has “an apparent political axe to grind” and called its quest for the records “politically-motivated.”

Pruitt’s office told the court it has 102 outstanding records requests, far more than usual due to Pruitt’s nomination, and has been working in “good faith” to fulfill CMD’s request.

Pruitt’s office released more than 400 documents last week to the CMD, but the group said there are at least 3,000 that they did not receive.

The court decision came after a 25-minute hearing, E&E News said. Pruitt’s office will have to give the records either to the CMD or to the court.