EPA chief Pruitt begged Big Oil lobbyists to be his personal hiring assistants

Pruitt made a recruitment "plea" to one of the biggest funders of anti-science disinformation.

Scott Pruitt -- Donald Trump's choice to head the EPA -- at his Senate confirmation hearing, January 18, 2017. CREDIT: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Scott Pruitt -- Donald Trump's choice to head the EPA -- at his Senate confirmation hearing, January 18, 2017. CREDIT: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Why is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) so rife with ethical disasters?

One reason may be that Administrator Scott Pruitt was getting hiring assistance from the most ethically dubious sources, such as the American Petroleum Institute (API). The API is Big Oil’s biggest lobbying group — and one of our country’s biggest funders of anti-science disinformation.

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Just weeks after taking office, Pruitt met with API’s board of directors to make “a plea for candidates to fill some” key EPA jobs, Buzzfeed reported Monday based on emails the Sierra Club obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

“I understand that Administrator Pruitt met with the API executives last week and he made a plea for candidates to fill some of the regional director positions within the agency,” ConocoPhillips lobbyist Kevin Avery emailed a top EPA aide on March 27, 2017. “One of our employees has expressed interest. He is polishing up his resume. Where does he need to send it?”

Christine Todd Whitman, who was George W. Bush’s EPA chief, told Buzzfeed that recruiting staff directly from a specific industry is “highly unusual” and not something she did. One former EPA regional director said, “I think it’s troubling the head of the EPA is asking the fossil fuel industry for staff recommendations for chief positions.”

Each week the media swarms over the latest of Pruitt’s ethical lapses. And his myriad sweetheart deals with lobbyists and his mendacity at the taxpayers’ expense do deserve attention.

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But the biggest scandal remains his toxic and immoral policies, which have been carried out by exactly the kind of promoters of anti-science, pro-pollution disinformation the API funds.

The API has a long, long history of disinformation that dates back a remarkable five decades.

In 1968, Stanford Research Institute (SRI) scientists completed their Final Report to the API on “Sources, abundance, and fate of gaseous atmospheric pollutants.” The SRI report notes that the best explanation for rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is the “fossil fuel emanation theory.”

The researchers explicitly warned the API that because of rising CO2 levels, “there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.” The report pointed out that as temperatures rise, “a number of events might be expected to occur, including the melting of the Antarctic ice, a rise in sea levels…”

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The researchers explained to API that in a mid-range projection, sea levels would rise “at a rate of 4 feet per 10 years. This is 100 times greater than presently observed changes.”

Rather than helping to warn the world about this grave threat — which is now coming true, as Antarctica’s great ice sheet is disintegrating faster than anyone expected — the API spent the next five decades funding disinformation about the reality of climate change and the need for action.

The API has also funded studies by consultants like Tony Cox to “cast doubt on the proven health impacts of soot,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists recently pointed out. That study was cited by the car companies earlier this year as one reason to undo Obama fuel economy standards. E&E News noted in April that Cox also wrote “talking points” for API that “challenged ozone health regulations.”

Returning to Pruitt’s plea to the API for help recruiting oil industry lobbyists and executives to the EPA, the emails released so far do not reveal any direct hires as a result.

But the API-funded disinformation specialist Tony Cox ended up as the head of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. When foxes are in charge of the hen house, ethical issues are inevitable, but these are the least of the problems for the hens as clean air and clean water protections are eliminated — and temperatures keep rising.