New emails reveal Pruitt exempted Utah oil companies from smog rules

New emails reveal Pruitt exempted Utah oil companies from smog rules
© Greg Nash

New emails reveal that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempted Utah oil and gas producers from key smog requirements, according to Politico.

The news outlet reports that oil and gas producers attempted for years to receive an exemption, and they finally received it after Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA defends FOIA policy after criticism Why did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt MORE became head of the EPA. 

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The news was revealed after the Sierra Club obtained emails via a lawsuit over a Freedom of Information Act request.

Matt Gravatt, associate legislative director at the Sierra Club, told Politico that the emails show polluters have Pruitt at their "beck and call."

"The public is being shut out of the decisions that affect the air we all breathe while polluters have Pruitt at their beck and call whenever they ask to throw out a lifesaving protection," Gravatt said.

Politico's report notes that Utah oil and gas producers received the exemption after an industry lobbyist, Marc Himmelstein, asked for assistance from House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopWestern lawmakers introduce bills to amend Endangered Species Act New emails reveal Pruitt exempted Utah oil companies from smog rules Making Puerto Rico a state by 2021 MORE (R-Utah). 

Emails showed that Himmelstein coordinated a phone call between Pruitt and Utah lawmakers in July 2017, according to Politico. Himmelstein reportedly gave Bishop talking points for the conversation. 

Among the talking points, Himmelstein reportedly told Bishop to ask the EPA to "develop a streamlined permitting solution for future development" of the Uinta Basin in Utah.

At the time, the EPA was about to declare that the land was not meeting standards for smog or ozone pollution — a move that would bar oil and gas producers from using the permitting solution. Instead, gas and oil producers would have to get approval for every well they aim to drill on the land. 

But on April 30, the EPA made a proposal that was in line with Himmelstein's request regarding a "streamlined permitting solution." Politico notes that Himmelstein also sent Pruitt's chief of staff marked-up regulatory text that he wanted Bishop to bring up. 

The news of oil and gas producers getting an exemption from Pruitt comes as the EPA chief faces scrutiny over myriad controversies regarding his spending and management decisions. Over the weekend, top ethics official at the EPA called for an investigation into Pruitt about potential ethics violations. 

The official called for probes into Pruitt's rental of a Capitol Hill condominium, taxpayer spending on travel and allegations that Pruitt had an aide help him with personal matters, including searching for housing during work hours.