Trump’s EPA pick stonewalls senators questioning his industry ties

The Senate knows very little about Pruitt’s ties to oil and gas, and he’s making sure they won’t find out more.

EPA Administrator-designate, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
EPA Administrator-designate, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has more than 3,000 pieces of correspondence between fossil fuel companies and Scott Pruitt’s office since 2013.

No one has seen them.

Meanwhile, Pruitt has been nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates pollution, including from fossil fuel businesses. Last week, he faced members of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, many of whom found his answers insufficient. This week, Pruitt submitted written responses to committee members trying to find out exactly how close the prospective EPA head is to the companies he would be regulating. The answers were less than forthcoming.

At least a dozen times, Pruitt told senators that to get an answer, they should file a public records request with the attorney general’s office — even though he still runs that office. Moreover, those 3,000 emails were requested via open records request over two years ago.

“He has it within his power to provide this information,” said Nick Surgey, director of research for the Center for Media and Democracy, which made the January 2015 request. “He remains the attorney general of Oklahoma. If he decided that it was important to provide this information, he could instruct his staff to do so.”

The attorney general’s office says it is still responding to an earlier open records request and that it responds to requests in order. Pruitt said he doesn’t know how many requests have gone unanswered in the last two years, or how long his office takes to fulfill the requests.

“I am not familiar with the pending requests,” Pruitt writes, though he could have simply requested the information from his own office. “I am not aware of what the average length of time my office took to fulfill open record act requests is,” he writes later in the testimony.

So it’s unclear how many requests stand between the one filed in January 2015 and anything the U.S. Senate would submit, but the delay virtually ensures that the committee won’t get any more information before they have to vote on Pruitt’s confirmation.

“Mr. Pruitt’s testimony before the Environment and Public Works Committee was evasive and misleading,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said in a statement. “Several Committee members urged him to set the record straight by providing real answers to our follow-up questions. Instead, Pruitt chose to provide equally evasive responses, ignoring the Senate’s constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on administration officials. Again, what is Mr. Pruitt hiding?”

Pruitt might have good reason to avoid disclosing documents.

An earlier open records request by the New York Times revealed in 2014 that Pruitt had taken a letter drafted by lawyers for Devon Energy and sent it, on state letterhead, to the EPA. Reporter Eric Lipton won a Pulitzer for his investigation into lobbyist influence. Pruitt stayed in office.

It’s hard to imagine that letter is the only thing Pruitt didn’t want people to discover.

For instance, his role fundraising for the Republican Attorney Generals Association, which is closely linked to fossil fuel industries, has been questioned. In his written testimony, Pruitt states that “no one else working on my behalf has solicited funds for RAGA.” This answer just barely threads the needle of plausibility. An email chain between Pruitt’s former chief of staff, Crystal Drwenski, RAGA staff, and Devon Energy (again), suggests that if Drwenksi was not raising money on behalf of RAGA, she was certainly facilitating its fundraising.

The February 2012 email chain, which was also revealed through an open records request, discusses getting the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s major lobbying group, “on board” with RAGA. API donated at least $50,000 to the group the following fiscal year.

During his testimony to the committee, Pruitt said that his filings on the side of the oil and gas industry were because the companies represent “the interests” of Oklahoma.

Pruitt’s longstanding ties to the oil and gas industries are not the only red flag for environmentalists. He has sued the EPA multiple times to stop regulation; he has no knowledge of how much lead is safe for children to consume; and he does not believe that pollution is affecting ocean acidification — he even denies knowledge that it is happening.