Energy & Environment

Dems question EPA nominee’s ties to Koch-backed group

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Senate Democrats are asking President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to explain his ties to a conservative advocacy group that’s received funding from the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The group of Democrats, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), wrote a letter late Tuesday to Scott Pruitt, the current Republican attorney general of Oklahoma, calling his involvement in the Rule of Law Defense Fund a “troubling” part of his ties to the fossil fuel industry.

The letter seeks detailed information about the group from Pruitt, including its donors, his role in fundraising, expenditures, communications and more.

{mosads}“Before the Senate votes to confirm you to run EPA, it is important that you provide a full disclosure of your relationship with the energy industry so we can determine how that will influence your ability to run the agency,” the Democrats wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Politico.

The Kochs, through their company Koch Industries, own significant holdings in fossil fuel industries, including pipelines and fuel refineries. They also fund high-profile conservative political causes and candidates. 

Democrats and environmentalists have denounced Pruitt for his close ties to the fossil fuel industry. That, along with his leading role in numerous lawsuits against the EPA under President Obama, should disqualify him from the EPA post, they argue.

Pruitt once sent the EPA a letter complaining about how it measures oil and gas pollution, but a 2014 New York Times investigation found that the letter was actually written by Devon Energy.

The Defense Fund was started as an affiliate of the Republican Attorneys General Association and focuses largely on campaigning against Obama administration policies that GOP attorneys general are fighting.

It uses a non-profit structure that allows it to avoid disclosing donors, but public tax forms from the Kochs’ Freedom Partners show that it has received at least $175,000 from the group since 2014. The organization’s total income was $953,000 in 2015 and $855,000 in 2014, according to tax records.

Pruitt is listed on the records as an unpaid director of the Defense Fund, along with five other Republican state attorneys general.

Charlie Spies, the Defense Funds’ counsel, denounced the Democrats’ letter in a statement to Politico.

“It is unfortunate that certain Democrat Senators appear willing to trample First Amendment rights in order to score cheap political points,” he said.

Trump’s transition team and Pruitt’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The letter’s other signatories were Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ben Cardin (Md.).

The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee could start to consider Pruitt’s nomination as early as next month.

Tags Ben Cardin Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Ed Markey Environmental Protection Agency Jeff Merkley Sheldon Whitehouse

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