As senators debated Thursday whether Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) should be confirmed to head the Environmental Protection Agency, a judge in Pruitt’s home state ordered his office to release thousands of pieces of correspondence between the nominee and oil and gas companies.
“Just within the last hour, a judge in Oklahoma has ordered the release of thousands of emails sent by this nominee… relevant to his dealings with oil and gas interested in his state and elsewhere,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said on the Senate floor Thursday evening.
“This development really requires a delay in this vote,” he said. “We have an obligation in advising and consenting to be as fully informed as possible…There is no excuse for a rush to confirmation.”
Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons told the Oklahoma attorney general’s office that it would have to turn over emails requested over two years ago by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) or provide them to the court.
CMD sued to force the release of the emails after Pruitt was nominated to head the EPA. The AG’s office had previously told CMD that it has 3,000 documents that are responsive to the group’s Open Records Act request, but earlier this week, the office turned over only 411 documents.
The office has until Tuesday to comply, E&E News reported.
But it’s widely expected that by Tuesday, Pruitt will already have been confirmed. Only one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, has publicly said she would oppose the nomination, but some Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) have backed Pruitt.
The senate began deliberations on the nomination Thursday afternoon. A vote is expected on Friday.
Environmental groups urged the Senate to hold off on the vote.
“Senate Republicans are attempting to jam through a nominee who fails any basic test of transparency and honesty required from a public official,” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “Has Scott Pruitt lied to the American people? What favors did he give the oil and gas industry in exchange for their support? Until we have the answers, this nomination can go no further.”
Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce called Pruitt’s lack of transparency “a mockery of the confirmation process.”
Pruitt repeatedly told senators to submit Open Records Act requests for documents that show the nature of his relationship to oil and gas interests. In an earlier, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation, the New York Times revealed that Pruitt had taken a letter written by an Oklahoma oil company and sent it to the EPA on state letterhead. He has also sued the EPA numerous times, and Senate Democrats say documentation of his relationship with fossil fuel companies is critical to evaluating his nomination to head the country’s environmental agency.
“What is he hiding in all of these emails? The vote to confirm Pruitt must now be delayed until every senator can see just who Pruitt is and what he will do if permitted to run the EPA,” Pierce said.