Six Democratic members of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee sent a letter to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Wednesday, asking that he answer questions about his ties to the fossil fuel industry and a conservative nonprofit funded in part by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch. Pruitt has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to take on the role of EPA administrator, and the Senators behind the letter are looking for more information about how his ties to the fossil fuel industry might influence his work at the EPA before confirmation hearings begin.
The letter, signed by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Ben Cardin (D-MD), asked for more information regarding Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry, a connection first highlighted by a 2014 New York Times investigation.
Communications obtained by the Times revealed that a letter sent by Pruitt to the EPA accusing the agency of federal overreach had actually been drafted by attorneys at Devon Energy, Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas company. At the time, the Times characterized the relationship between Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry as an “unprecedented, secretive alliance… to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda.”
The Times investigation also reported that as Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt worked to strengthen the financial relationship between oil and gas companies and fossil fuel lobbying firms and the Republican Attorneys General Association, the national association of Republican attorneys general. Thanks in part to Pruitt’s work, the American Petroleum Institute — the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry — as well as fossil fuel giants like ConocoPhillips, Alpha Natural Resources, and American Electric Power all joined the Republican Attorneys General Association.
Around the same time, according to the Times investigation, the association created the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a nonprofit “public policy organization for issues relevant to the nation’s Republican attorneys general.” As a nonprofit, it is not required to disclose the names of its donors — though tax documents from Freedom Partners, the Koch brother’s super PAC, show that the organization has donated at least $175,000 to the Rule of Law Defense Fund since 2014. Pruitt is currently a board member of the Rule of Law Defense Fund.
“Before the Senate votes to confirm you to run EPA, it is important that you provide a full disclosure of your relationship with the energy industry so we can determine how that will influence your ability to run the agency,” the letter from the EPW committee members read. The letter asked that Pruitt specifically disclose a list of the nonprofit’s donors, requests made by the nonprofit for funding, a list of all expenditures of over $1,000, a list of meetings and fundraisers attended by Pruitt or anyone under his supervision, and a list of all federal or state regulation on which the nonprofit has taken a position.
Rule of Law Defense Fund counsel Charlie Spies characterized the letter as an attempt to “score cheap political points,” and told Politico that the nonprofit would not disclose the names of its donors.
But even if Pruitt refuses to release the names of the Rule of Law Defense Fund’s donors, his ties to the nonprofit are almost certain to raise more questions about how deep his ties to the fossil fuel industry run, and how those ties might influence his work as administrator of the EPA. Pruitt has been a vocal critic of the EPA for years, launching lawsuits aimed at stopping both the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s proposal for cutting carbon emissions in the power sector, and the Waters of the United States rule.
Pruitt, who does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change, received more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry in 2014.
Democrats on the Environment and Public Works committee, as well as environmental organizations, have staunchly opposed Pruitt’s nomination. Sen. Sanders called Pruitt’s nomination both “sad” and “dangerous,” and League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said that having Pruitt in the top position at the EPA would be like “the fox guarding the henhouse.”