Energy & Environment

New EPA chief’s emails reveal coordination with oil interests

Emails from new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma attorney general reveal several instances of coordination between his office and oil interests in his state.

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released the emails on Wednesday, one day after Pruitt’s former office turned them over to a state court in Oklahoma. The group said it received 7,564 pages of emails from Pruitt’s office overall.

Senate Democrats — all but two of whom voted against Pruitt’s nomination — insisted the vote be delayed until after the emails were released. They said the emails could show close ties between Pruitt’s office and the Oklahoma fossil fuel industry, a sector that he defended during his tenure as the state’s attorney general. 

{mosads}Several emails show coordination between Pruitt and oil and gas companies, utilities and conservative groups inside Oklahoma and out.

Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy was one of the most frequent industry sources for Pruitt’s office. 

In 2013, the company’s lobbyist Bill Whitsitt contacted Pruitt’s office to say he had told Pruitt about a forthcoming Bureau of Land Management rule on hydraulic fracturing. 

“We’ll see the new proposal sometime next week I believe and we’ll be back in touch on potential next steps,” he wrote. 

The company and Pruitt’s office in March emailed about how to offer a formal comment on the proposed rule. Whitsitt provided the office with a draft letter on the rule that he said “could be a basis for the meeting or a call” with federal officials. 

Days later, Pruitt’s chief of staff sent Whitsitt a copy of a letter about the matter, adding, “thank you for your assistance on this important issue.”

In June 2013, Clayton Eubanks, who was then Pruitt’s deputy solicitor general, asked Whitsitt for suggested edits to a letter Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general were planning to send to the EPA to advocate against regulating methane leaks from oil and gas drilling.

Whitsitt sent in some suggested changes, but the email records do not make it clear what changed, if anything. Pruitt sent the letter days later, and Eubanks thanked Whitsitt for his help.

The next month, Eubanks emailed a Devon employee to follow up on an earlier conversation about a rule on fracking on federal land. The company had reviewed a letter Pruitt was preparing on the rule and suggested that he include footnotes, something the final letter later included.

“Thanks for putting the AG letter into action,” Devon’s public policy and government relations director Brent Rockwood wrote. 

“I think that this letter will make a strong statement and real difference.”

The emails also referenced meetings and calls between Pruitt or his staffers and other oil groups. 

Pruitt’s office worked with the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers industry group on the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets ethanol blending requirements for gasoline. 

In July 2013, after a phone conversation, AFPM general counsel Richard Moskowitz told Eubanks his group would file a waiver request under the law later that month. He urged Oklahoma to “file a separate waiver petition that emphasizes ‘severe environmental harm,’ as this argument is more credible coming from a state.”

Eubanks had told Moskowitz he had “had the opportunity now to become more familiar with the RFS and it’s (sic) obvious shortcomings and problems. I think it is safe to say that AG Pruitt has an interest in the issue.” 

That fall, when the EPA lowered annual ethanol blending requirements, Pruitt released a statement calling the program “unworkable.”  As EPA chief, Pruitt will now oversee implementation of the federal ethanol mandate.  

In an email from November 2013, Pruitt’s executive assistant reached out to an AFPM official to set up a meeting.

“General Pruitt asked that I share his DC dates with you in hopes to set up a meeting,” the assistant wrote to Sarah Magruder Lyle, AFPM’s vice president for strategic initiatives.

“He will only be there 1 day in November and that is on Friday the 15th. If you are available this day we will definitely try to get something worked out. If we need to look at other dates later on we can do that as well.”

The two agreed to meet that day. 

That December, three Pruitt staffers, including his solicitor general and chief of staff, scheduled a call with officials from Koch Industries, the company run by billionaire GOP donors Charles and David Koch. 

The records show a close relationship between Pruitt’s office and the Koch brothers’ political network.

“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” Matt Ball, the Oklahoma head at the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, write to Pruitt and an Oklahoma lawmaker in August 2013. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!”

Ball frequently coordinated with Pruitt’s office on messaging matters, the records show. For example, in advance of an event his group hosted, he worked with Pruitt aides to craft talking points for the attorney general’s presentation.

An Oklahoma judge ordered Pruitt’s office last week to release the documents after the CMD sued, seeking a response to an Open Records Act data request it had sent years earlier. The group says it is due to receive records related to five other data requests by Feb. 27. 

That court order came days before the Senate voted to confirm Pruitt to his post at the EPA. Democrats said the vote should be delayed until after the Pruitt emails came out, noting prior coordination on federal environmental rules between his office and fossil fuel companies. 

Pruitt was sworn in as EPA administrator on Friday, and he addressed the agency for the first time on Tuesday.

Oklahoma’s attorney general’s office stressed in a statement that the records it produced do more than comply with the law.

“The office went above and beyond what is required under the Open Records Act and produced thousands of additional documents that, but for the court’s order, would typically be considered records outside the scope of the act,” spokesman Lincoln Ferguson said in a statement.

“This broad disclosure should provide affirmation that, despite politically motivated allegations, the Office of Attorney General remains fully committed to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act.”

Mike Hunter, a Republican, is Oklahoma’s current attorney general. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) appointed him following Pruitt’s swearing-in at the EPA.

– Updated at 2:46 p.m.

Tags Environmental Protection Agency Oklahoma Scott Pruitt

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