Energy firms and state attorneys general have established a secretive alliance in an effort to derail environmental oversight and promote fossil fuels, according to an in-depth New York Times’ investigation published this weekend. Having reviewed thousands of emails and legal documents and undertaken dozens of interviews, the Times found that “Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda.”
Using Oklahoma as an example, open-records requests revealed that Attorney General Scott Pruitt delivered a letter to the EPA in 2011 accusing the agency of significantly overestimating the air pollution caused by fracking. Pruitt did not mention that the letter was originally written by representatives of Devon Energy, one of the state’s largest oil and gas companies.
“The attorney general’s staff had taken Devon’s draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general’s signature,” reports the Times.
Devon Energy is a major supporter of the Republican Attorneys General Association, whose mission is electing Republicans to the Office of Attorney General. The company has donated significantly to the campaigns of climate deniers, giving $800,000 to former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign in 2013. Devon Energy also gave over a million dollars to the lobbying effort in support of the Keystone XL pipeline in 2012. Pruitt is head of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which has collected $16 million this year — nearly four times the amount it collected in 2010.
According to the Times, at least a dozen states now have attorneys general working with “energy companies and other corporate interests” that are in exchange providing them with unheard of amounts of political funds. This impact of this effort can be seen in this year’s election results, as Republicans will hold 27 state attorney’s general offices starting in January — the first time they’ve had a majority in recent history.
The Times reports that Devon Energy “readily turned to Mr. Pruitt and his staff for help” as part of a broader national effort bringing together powerful energy interests and attorneys general. The establishment of a new Federalism in Environmental Policy task force by the offices of 19 state attorneys general has bolstered attempts to push back on federal actions to reduce ozone pollution, protect endangered species, regulate fracking, and limit greenhouse gas emissions. The scale of this coordination with corporate interests is unprecedented.
Pruitt changed 37 words out of 1,016 when repurposing a letter drafted by Devon lawyers for submission to then head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, about the agency’s methane regulations. The Times published 80-plus pages of notes and documents showing the extent to which Devon and other energy companies have been working with state attorneys general to fight federal actions.
In responding to questions about his involvement with industry lobbyists, Pruitt said that “it is the content of the request not the source of the request that is relevant.” He went on to say that Devon Energy is an important energy producer and job creator for Oklahoma and that the overreach of the federal government into the regulation of fracking is not only bad for Devon, but also would negatively impact citizens of the state.
A recent study published in the journal Science found that nearly all of the more than 2,500 small earthquakes that have hit Oklahoma in the past five years can be linked to the process of drilling for oil and gas. Spills related to fracking have also threatened water supplies in the state.
In another recent display of the coordination between energy firms and state-level Republican politicians, this week the American Legislative Executive Council held their annual closed-door meeting in D.C. They pushed a number of anti-clean energy initiatives, including a resolution to abolish the EPA.