Trump’s EPA pick forced to close his PACs — but the conflicts don’t end there

How’s that whole ‘drain the swamp’ thing working out?

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead of Pruitt’s Senate confirmation hearing, expected later this month. CREDIT: AP Photo/Zach Gibson
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead of Pruitt’s Senate confirmation hearing, expected later this month. CREDIT: AP Photo/Zach Gibson

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency does not usually channel money to political candidates. But that’s exactly what Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) was planning to do, keeping his two political action committees (PACs) operational even as he approached Senate confirmation hearings to head the federal EPA.

But amid backlash over plans to raise money through the PACs, which have historically been heavily funded by the oil and gas industry, a lawyer for the two committees announced that they will be dismantled.

“The PACs missions are no longer relevant and we don’t want them to be a distraction during the confirmation hearings,” Charles Spies, counsel for both committees, told E&E News, which first reported that the PACs would be able to continue operating.

E&E found that nearly half the funding for Liberty 2.0, a super PAC, came from “energy interests.”

“Drain the swamp” was a rallying cry during the Trump campaign, as voters urged the billionaire to get money out of politics and start representing regular people, not industry lobbyists. But ThinkProgress found that during Pruitt’s campaign for attorney general, he received some $300,000 in fossil fuel money. He was also part of a group of Republican state attorneys general who met with fossil fuel executives at a high-dollar retreat shortly before filing a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Pruitt’s 2013 re-election campaign was led by oil billionaire Harold Hamm, who has also been a Trump campaign adviser.

Pruitt has repeatedly attacked the EPA’s “overreach,” saying states are best suited to carry out environmental enforcement. But it’s not always been clear whose interest he represents.

In 2011, a New York Times investigation revealed that a letter Pruitt had written to the EPA, accusing the agency of overestimating pollution from the oil and gas industry, had been drafted by lawyers for Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas company.

Pruitt has also defended Exxon, which is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as several states, for allegations that it knew carbon emissions could destabilize the climate as far back as the 1970s. It is illegal for a publicly held company to withhold information from shareholders that could affect the company’s finances.

Pruitt has even worked within Oklahoma to delay or stop compliance with EPA regulations. In one 2013 letter to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Pruitt criticized the state agency’s proposed plan to phase out a coal-fired power plant in Rogers County, writing that, “it does not appear that DEQ considered the total costs,” and requesting that DEQ not move forward. The plant was targeted for retirement to comply with the Regional Haze Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Rule.