Pruitt prioritized giving speeches to Koch and Mercer funded groups in his first year at EPA

Scott Pruitt gave nearly ten speeches to right-wing think tanks.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an event at the Federalist Society on November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an event at the Federalist Society on November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In his first year as EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt scheduled ten speeches to conservative think tanks, including many Koch-funded organizations that espouse a platform of climate denial, according to a ThinkProgress review of the administrator’s public calendar.

And while it’s not uncommon for EPA administrator’s to speak at politically-aligned think tanks, the frequency with which Pruitt has visited think tanks is more than double that of his two most recent predecessors. That frequency, combined with the agency’s lack of transparency surrounding these appearances, has raised eyebrows among environment and public interest groups.

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“Scott Pruitt’s frequent – and frequently secret – speeches to industry and right-wing political groups are another example of how he uses EPA to further his own ambition instead of serving the public,” Tom Pelton, spokesman for the Environmental Integrity Project, told ThinkProgress via email.

“If Administrator Pruitt were doing his job right,” Pelton said, “he’d be talking with and listening to everyone who depends on clean air and water.  Instead, he spends all of his time – and the public’s money – hanging out with industry lobbyists and right-wingers he can count on to sing his praises.”

Along with conservative think tanks, Pruitt’s public schedule heavily favors meetings and speeches to industry groups. A separate ThinkProgress analysis found that during his first 10 months as administrator, Pruitt gave more than 30 speeches to industry groups and companies regulated by the EPA. Over the same period of time, Pruitt gave no speeches to environmental or public health groups.

According to Pruitt’s public calendar, the administrator had scheduled 10 events deemed “speaking engagements” at conservative think-tanks that either outright deny the existence of climate change or actively work against climate action through March 30, 2018. One of those engagements — a June speech at the right-wing Manhattan Institute — was cancelled due to public protest.

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Of those events, three were at the Heritage Foundation, which is perhaps one of the most famous climate denial think tanks. The Heritage Foundation has exerted significant influence over the Trump administration and, particularly, Pruitt’s tenure as administrator, pushing for everything from the administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement to banning the EPA from using non-public data to craft its regulations.

Heritage’s contributors frequently publish reports aimed at undermining the scientific consensus on climate change or slowing climate action. In April of 2016, Heritage released a report on the “state of climate science,” arguing that “hysteria over global warming” was unfounded and that the Obama administration’s climate policies would have an impact “almost to small to measure” on global temperature rise.

That same year, Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow and manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation, wrote in the Daily Signal that climate change is “a contentious and unproven scientific theory.” In 2017, Heritage also ran an opinion piece by Terry Miller, Director of the Center for International Trade and Economics at Heritage, titled “How Fossil Fuels Will Help Us Confront Climate Change.”

The think tank has strong financial ties to both of the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers, having received $5,716,325 from Koch-related organizations between 1997 and 2015. Heritage also received $780,000 from ExxonMobil between 1992 and 2012, and $500,000 from the Mercer Family Foundation in 2016. Like the Koch brothers, the Mercer family has given heavily to organizations that promote climate denial and work against the regulation of carbon dioxide.

Perhaps the strongest indication of Pruitt’s unique affinity for the Heritage Foundation came in mid-April, as he faced a growing scandal linked to his sweetheart Capitol Hill condo deal with an energy lobbyist. While calls for Pruitt’s resignation continued to grow, he retreated to the Heritage Foundation for a meeting that one attendee described as a “climate deniers’ convention,” according to E&E News reporter Zack Coleman.

One Heritage Foundation speech — given on November 30, 2017 in Washington, D.C. — also featured a right-wing think tank known as the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Founded in 1987, TPPF advocates for a platform of climate denial, including the idea that humans are better suited to warm climates and carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. 

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TPPF is the parent organization of the Fueling Freedom Project, a project whose stated goal is explaining “the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” and ending government regulation of carbon dioxide. Kathleen Hartnett White, who the White House nominated to lead its Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), is a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Hartnett White eventually withdrew her nomination due to intense scrutiny of her fringe, anti-science beliefs.

Like the Heritage Foundation, TPPF also has deep ties to both the Koch brothers and fossil fuel companies: Koch organizations gave more than $220,000 to TPPF in 2010, and the think tank counts companies like Exxon, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron among its financial contributors.

Beyond the Heritage Foundation, Pruitt also gave three speeches, in September, November, and February, to the Federalist Society, a right-wing network of conservative lawyers and judges with deep financial ties to the Koch brothers.

The Federalist Society received $1.7 million between 1985 and 2015 from Koch-associated companies and individuals. The group opposes attempts by attorneys general and others to bring climate litigation cases to court, publishing a piece by a contributor in April 2016 about the New York and Massachusetts attorneys generals investigations into Exxon under the headline “The Climate Change Inquisition.”

Pruitt was also scheduled to give a speech on June 30 in New York to the Manhattan Institute, a think tank that has taken more than $2 million from Koch-related organizations and more than $1 million from ExxonMobil. The organization also received $300,000 from the Mercer Family Foundation in 2016.

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Like Heritage, the Manhattan Institute has been extremely active in promoting climate denial and misinformation for more than a decade. In 2007, the Manhattan Institute published a list of “Energy Myths” on their website, with the ninth myth being that global temperature has increased in the last fifty years.

The page argues that the link between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming is unclear, and that there is a “lack of certainty that surrounds the climate-change debate.” The group also published an article on May 1, 2017, written by Oren Cass, which argues that “climate-change activists are the real science deniers.”

Pruitt cancelled that speech after public protest from environmental groups.

Last month, Pruitt also spoke at the American Enterprise Institute’s World Forum held in Sea Island, Georgia. The yearly forum, put on by the right-wing think tank, is notorious for its lack of transparency, leading reporters to describe it as a “secretive gathering” of “mostly-Republican power players,” though the forum does not release a full list of attendees.

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has been a major player in the conservative climate denial machine for more than a decade. In 2007, the Guardian reported that AEI was offering to pay scientists and economists $10,000 to undermine the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate change. AEI opposes the Paris climate agreement, and its members have suggested that there is still doubt about the extent of human influence on climate change. 

Between 2011 and 2013, AEI received $5.7 million in funding for its climate denial efforts, according to a report by the Guardian. It has also received more than $3 million from ExxonMobil through June of 2016 and $1.8 million from the Charles G. Koch charitable foundation between 2004 and 2015.

In early December, Pruitt also gave two separate speeches to two more conservative think tanks — the American Council for Capital Formation, and the Hoover Institution.

The American Council for Capital Formation, which works for “economic growth through sound tax, regulatory, and environmental policies,” does not outright deny climate change, though it does believe that government regulations are not the solution to the problem. It has received over $1.6 million from Exxon for “climate change activities,” and took in some $600,000 from Koch-related organizations between 1999 and 2015.

Unlike the American Council for Capital Formation, the Hoover Institution — which is based out of Stanford University — often engages in climate denial and misinformation.

It regularly publishes pieces that highlight the contrarian view of climate science, like “Containing Climate Change Hysteria” and “Climate Change Isn’t the End of the World, and counts among its fellows Thomas Gale Moore, a climate denier who is also associated with the Cato Institute (as an adjunct scholar) and is on the board of the Competitive Enterprise Institute — two other think tanks known for their climate denial.

Like the right-wing think tanks at which Pruitt has spoken, the administrator also has a history of pushing climate misinformation and downplaying the role of human activity in global warming.

Pruitt has publicly questioned whether carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of climate change, and frequently attempts to cast doubt on the scientific consensus around mankind’s influence on climate change. In January, internal EPA emails revealed that Pruitt was personally involved in the agency’s decision to erase climate data from the EPA’s website.

Pruitt is not the first EPA administrator to book speaking engagements at politically-aligned think tanks. According to a review of the EPA’s archive of public speeches — which include most major speaking events or statements given by past administrators — Gina McCarthy, who served as President Barack Obama’s EPA administrator from 2013 to 2017, gave four speeches to nonprofit organizations with political ties.

She gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in March 2015, and before that spoke at Resources for the Future in September 2014. Another speech was given at the National Wildlife Federation Annual Conference in May of 2014, and a speech at Center for American Progress in December 2013. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.)

Lisa Jackson, who served as Obama’s EPA administrator between 2009 and 2013, also gave four speeches to organizations with political or industry ties: a  speech to the Women’s National Democratic Club in January of 2010, a speech at the Edison Electric Institute Meeting in January 2010, a speech to the American Iron and Steel Institute in November 2009, and a speech to the Pew Center for Climate Change in June of 2009.

Unlike previous administrators, however, Pruitt appears to give speeches to politically-aligned think tanks with a unique frequency — in his first year alone, he gave more than twice as many speeches as the previous two administrators over the course of their entire time at the EPA.

And unlike previous administrators, Pruitt’s speeches remain couched in secrecy. The EPA no longer updates a public webpage with text of speeches or statements given by the administrator, something that it had done since 1995.

The EPA did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for clarification as to why the speeches webpage was no longer publicly available and whether the agency has any plans to publicly publish Pruitt’s speeches.