Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt gave a speech on Tuesday to a mining industry group whose member companies are regulated by his agency. Pruitt’s appearance at the event was closed to the public and the press.
In fact, it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon, when two photos and a message appeared on Pruitt’s official Twitter account, that the public learned he had spoken to the Industrial Minerals Association – North America (IMA-NA), a trade group for companies that mine minerals used in the manufacture of chemicals, synthetic fibers, flame retardants, and other products.
The photos showed Pruitt speaking at the association’s spring meeting at a hotel in Washington, D.C. And the message let his followers know that he is “striving to provide greater regulatory certainty for miners across the country.”
The tweet was the latest example of Pruitt waiting until after an event to alert the public of his schedule. Throughout his tenure as EPA administrator, Pruitt has leaned toward extreme secrecy to hide the time and location of his official activities.
Almost all of Pruitt’s activities have been with representatives from the industries he’s supposed to regulate and right-wing groups. During his first 10 months as administrator, Pruitt gave more than 30 speeches to industry groups and companies regulated by the EPA.
Great to be w/ the Industrial Minerals Association yesterday. We talked about the important work @EPA is doing w/ the mining sector, including action on the financial assurance rule under CERCLA & striving to provide greater regulatory certainty for miners across the country. pic.twitter.com/SZvZaXNkK9
— Administrator Pruitt (@EPAScottPruitt) May 9, 2018
Pruitt appeared at IMA-NA’s spring meeting more than five months after he announced the EPA would not be issuing a final rule governing financial responsibility requirements for toxic waste and pollution created by certain hardrock mining facilities, including those owned and operated by members of the association. His decision was welcomed by IMA-NA member companies, which did not want the federal government requiring them to prove they have the financial wherewithal to clean up their pollution.
Not only did the EPA opt not to disclose Pruitt’s appearance at the mining group’s Tuesday meeting, but his name did not appear on the meeting agenda. The agenda simply read: “Roundtable Discussion with EPA Leadership… A Senior Official from the Trump Administration.”
The EPA and the IMA-NA did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment regarding Pruitt’s appearance at the meeting.
The EPA cites security as the reason for not alerting the public and the press to Pruitt’s whereabouts on any given day. Others believe Pruitt’s concern with secrecy is less about security than a desire to avoid unexpected questions or criticism.
“Pruitt’s sketchy ‘secret meetings’ all around the country should make us all wonder what he’s got to hide,” a Sierra Club representative said in a statement last month. “If he’s doing the job that he is supposed to be doing — protecting public health — then there should be no reason to hold private meetings behind closed doors.”
A review of thousands of pages of EPA emails and documents — obtained by the Sierra Club through successful litigation under the Freedom of Information Act –revealed that Pruitt’s staff frequently works closely with event organizers to ensure word does not leak out about his planned appearance at meetings.
In a discussion about Pruitt appearing at a November 2017 gala sponsored by the APP Foundation, Hayley Ford, Pruitt’s personal aide, told the event organizer: “We would prefer not to have his bio and headshot up on your website… due to security reasons and so as not to drawn (sic) unwanted attention to the event.”
The APP Foundation, a right-wing advocacy group, states on its website that one of the greatest threats to society “is an aggressive assault from the intolerant progressive sexual and gender ideology.”
For Pruitt’s appearance at a Federalist Society convention in Washington last November, Ford said: “We noticed that the Fed Soc website lists the location/date/time of the Administrator’s speaking engagement during the convention next Saturday. Are you able to take this down for security reasons?” The Federalist Society is a legal group that promotes far right policies.
After further discussions, though, Ford wrote back to Juli Nix, director of conferences for the Federal Society, to let her know that the information did not need to be removed from the group’s website.
“Since we know that Fed Soc does meticulous vetting of his registrants, we are ok with it staying up. What we don’t want to happen is to have the session disrupted by those who see that the Administrator is attending and want to distract from the event. If your team can take extra care to prevent that, we would appreciate it,” Ford wrote in a November 10 email.
For an event sponsored by the Washington office of the Hoover Institution, a right-wing research organization at which Pruitt was invited to speak, Liz Bowman, the former associate administrator for public affairs at the EPA, sent an email to the think tank on November 6, 2017 in which she asked: “[T]his is closed-press, right?”
The event organizer reassured Bowman, telling her: “We have no plans to invite media.”
According to the New York Times, Pruitt’s decision not to release a list of public speaking events breaks with all of his predecessors at the EPA for the last 25 years, as well as other members of President Trump’s cabinet.
The Times also highlighted the fact that Pruitt doesn’t hold news conferences. In one case when journalists learned of an event where Pruitt would be, they were ejected from the premises after an EPA official threatened to call the police.