Five takeaways from the Scott Pruitt emails

A liberal group this week released thousands of pages of emails, obtained under an open records law, detailing communications between new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt and various energy and conservative interest groups.

The emails painted a picture of an office that went out of its way to coordinate with the fossil fuel and conservative organizations.

Pruitt’s staffers often shared talking points, memos, strategy and more with the outside groups or companies and were in frequent conversation with them.

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The documents also provided a unique perspective into Pruitt’s priorities and concerns on environmental and other legal matters.

Here are five takeaways from the documents and the stories surrounding them.

The emails probably would not have threatened Pruitt’s confirmation

Senate Democrats argued Pruitt’s confirmation vote should have been delayed until the emails were released.

The GOP refused to budge and voted 52 to 46 on Feb. 17 to confirm him, mostly along party lines.

“Seeing industry representatives fawning over Pruitt’s efforts to attack the EPA, it’s clear that this information should have been closely examined by the Senate as we considered his nomination to run that agency,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list Key Democrat accuses Labor head of 'misleading' testimony on jobless benefits Sheldon Whitehouse leads Democrats into battle against Trump judiciary MORE (D-R.I.) said after the records were published.

But it’s unlikely that the emails would have significantly shifted the winds against Pruitt: members already knew about significant coordination between Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry, thanks to a 2014 New York Times story that revealed industry ties beyond what the contents of the emails showed.  

The new documents only reinforced what Democrats and liberal groups have long argued: He is a close ally of the fossil fuel industry and his office frequently collaborated with those interests. 

“There was no new information in these emails to support the left's anti-Pruitt fever dreams,” said Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for the conservative research group America Rising Squared. 

Pruitt’s office frequently worked with Oklahoma companies and groups 

One of the major themes that emerged from the emails is that Pruitt’s staffers and top deputies often went to great lengths to assist fossil fuel, utility and conservative interests and often used talking points and analysis from them.

Most of the communications involved groups in Pruitt’s home state.

For example, Devon Energy Corp., an oil and natural gas producer based in Oklahoma City, frequently was in touch with Pruitt’s office, as was the Public Service Company of Oklahoma, a unit of utility giant American Electric Power Co. 

Staffers also frequently worked closely with conservative organizations such as the Oklahoma chapter of Americans for Prosperity and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

“Frankly, he came from an oil and gas state and you would expect that kind of an interchange between he and the constituents in that state, and he was an elected representative of those constituents,” Christine Todd Whitman, an EPA administrator under President George W. Bush and frequent critic of President Trump and Pruitt, told MSNBC.

Pruitt’s office was worried about impacts of the ethanol mandate

The emails provide a window into how Pruitt’s office dealt with the federal ethanol blending mandate for gasoline refiners.

In one 2013 exchange, Clayton Eubanks, Pruitt’s deputy solicitor general, discusses strategies to get the EPA to lower ethanol blending requirements with Richard Moskowitz of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. 

Specifically, the two discussed the “economic and environmental harm” to Oklahoma from requiring too much ethanol.

Moskowitz asked Eubanks to file a formal petition with the EPA to waive certain aspects of the mandate, to align with one the refiners’ group would file.

Oklahoma did not end up filing the petition. But Pruitt applauded the EPA’s decision later that year to reduce the mandate, saying in a statement that “the decision by the EPA to lower that standard is good news for Oklahoma consumers.”

At his January confirmation hearing, Pruitt declined to go too strongly in favor of ethanol or oil, to the anger of some senators representing corn-heavy states. 

He pledged only to “honor the intent” of the standard, telling Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerBipartisan senators seek funding for pork producers forced to euthanize livestock Top Georgia Republican endorses Doug Collins Senate bid Senators balance coronavirus action with risks to health MORE (R-Neb.), “it is not the job of the administrator of the EPA to do anything other than administer the program according to the intent of Congress, and I commit to you to do so.”

More emails are likely coming 

The Center for Media and Democracy, the liberal group behind the releases, filed numerous requests for Pruitt’s communications, so more records are likely to be released.

Aides to Mike Hunter, Oklahoma’s current attorney general, are seeking more time to comply with the request, which could delay the release of new records. The state Supreme Court will hold a hearing on Hunter’s request on Tuesday. 

The emails are likely to keep dripping out, and they could lead to a stream of potentially negative news regarding the new EPA administrator, similarly to the periodic releases of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarville repeats prediction that Trump will drop out of race What's behind Trump's slump? Americans are exhausted, for one thing Trump campaign reserves air time in New Mexico MORE’s email records during the 2016 election cycle by the State Department.

In addition, the office of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) was ordered this week by a court to release documents related to two executions, the Tulsa World reported.

Since Pruitt was the state’s top lawyer, some of the records could provide insight into his role in the cases. 

The emails could sow unrest at the EPA 

Some of the EPA’s 15,000 employees and union leaders have made no secret about their contempt for their new leader.

Further evidence of his close ties to fossil fuel interests — which are often in the EPA’s crosshairs in pollution enforcement — is likely to sow even more unrest.

EPA employees went so far as to lobby the Senate against Pruitt’s confirmation, an unprecedented step, due to his fossil fuel ties and his frequent litigation against the agency while he was Oklahoma’s top attorney.

“Mr. Pruitt’s background speaks for itself, and it comes on top of what the president wants to do to EPA,” John O’Grady, president of the EPA’s union, told the New York Times. 

“It seems like Trump and Pruitt want a complete reversal of what EPA has done. I don’t know if there’s any other agency that’s been so reviled,” Nicole Cantello, a union leader in the Chicago area, told the Times.

Devin Henry contributed