Thousands of Emails Detail EPA Head's Close Ties to Fossil Fuel Industry
February 23, 2017
Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson / The Washington Post & Steve Horn, Sharon Kelly and Graham Readfearn / DeSmogBlog
The Center for Media and Democracy has obtained previously unreleased emails from the office of former Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who was recently sworn in as the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency. According to the email record, Pruitt regularly huddled with fossil fuel firms and electric utilities to discuss how to combat federal environmental regulations and spoke to conservative political groups about what they call government"overreach."
Thousands of Emails Detail EPA Head's
Close Ties to Fossil Fuel Industry
Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson / The Washington Post
(February 22, 2017) -- In his previous role as Oklahoma's attorney general, the Environmental Protection Agency's new administrator regularly huddled with fossil fuel firms and electric utilities about how to combat federal environmental regulations and spoke to conservative political groups about what they call government"overreach," according to thousands of pages of emails released Wednesday.
"The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt's office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events," said Nick Surgey, research director for the Center for Media and Democracy, which has sued to compel the release of the emails.
The emails highlight an often-chummy relationship between Pruitt's office and Devon Energy, a major oil and gas exploration and production company based in Oklahoma City. The correspondence makes clear that top officials at the company met often with Pruitt or people who worked for him. Devon representatives also helped draft -- and re-draft -- letters for Pruitt to sign and send federal officials in an effort to stave off new regulations.
"Any suggestions?" a deputy solicitor general in Pruitt's office wrote to a Devon executive in early May 2013, including a draft of a letter the office was planning to send to the EPA regarding proposed regulations of methane emissions.
"Here you go," the executive, Bill Whitsitt replied. "Please note that you could use just the red changes, or both red and blue (the latter being some further improvements from one of our experts) or none."
"I sent the letter today," the deputy solicitor general wrote the following day. "Thanks for all your help on this."
The emails show that Pruitt and his office were in touch with a network of ultra-conservative groups, many of which in the past have received backing from billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, the libertarian owners of Koch Industries, a major oil company.
The documents detail not only how Pruitt's office at times coordinated with industry officials to fight unwanted regulations from Washington, but also how he was a highly sought after speaker at conferences and other gatherings for groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, which works with corporate interests and state legislators to shape key pieces of legislation.
In one example, Pruitt was a speaker at an ALEC conference on May 3, 2013, in Oklahoma City. He was part of a panel called, "Embracing American Energy Opportunities: From Wellheads to Pipelines." The event also featured a reception at the Petroleum Club and a luncheon sponsored by Koch Industries.
The Oklahoma attorney general's office handed over the batch of emails -- nearly 7,000 pages in all -- this week in order to meet a deadline set by a judge who ordered the documents' release following more than two years of effort by CMD, a liberal watchdog organization. The group had sued to compel the state to release the documents under public records laws. (The emails can be viewed here.)
Though the emails show Pruitt's ties with a wide range of fossil fuel interests and conservative political groups, they show a particularly close relationship with Devon Energy, a major oil and gas exploration and production company based in Oklahoma City. Much of the correspondence revolves around arranging speaking engagements, obtaining contact information for people at the federal Office of Management and Budget and coordinating letter-writing efforts.
At one point, Pruitt's then-chief of staff, Melissa Houston, wrote in a Jan. 9, 2013, email to Whitsitt, Devon's vice president for public affairs, "You are so amazingly helpful!!! Thank you so much!!!"
In another email chain on March 21, 2013, Whitsitt wrote to Pruitt's office offering a draft of a letter that state attorneys general might sign and send to the then-acting EPA administrator regarding limits on methane emissions. Devon, which has substantial shale gas and shale oil drilling operations, would have been affected by the rule.
"Attached is a potential first-cut draft of a letter a (bipartisan if possible?) group of AGs might send to the acting EPA administrator and some others in the Administration in response to the NE states' notice of intent to sue for more E&P emission regulation," Whitsitt wrote. "It would be a shot across the bow, warning EPA not to not go down a negotiated-rulemaking or wink-at-a sue-and-settle tee-up process."
The company vice president gave strategic advice, too. "If sent, I'd suggest that it be made public, at least to the Hill and to policy community publications," he wrote. "It seems to me this would also be a logical outgrowth of the fossil energy AGs meeting and could be powerful with a number of signers. It is also the kind of thing that in the future could be run through the clearinghouse we discussed. Please let me know what you and General Pruitt think, or if we can help further."
That same month, Whitsitt also offered a draft of a letter for Pruitt to sign about the federal Bureau of Land Management's revised proposal of a rule on hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique that has helped U.S. companies like Devon sharply expand output and profits. Following up on his conversations with Pruitt, Whitsitt suggested a meeting "or perhaps more efficient, a conference call" with OMB officials.
"The attached draft letter (or something like it that Scott if comfortable talking from and sending to the acting director to whom the letter is addressed) could be the basis for the meeting or call," he wrote.
Pruitt's chief of staff replied: "Thanks Bill -- we will take a look and start working on a draft."
Pruitt's close ties to Devon Energy were first highlighted in 2014 by the New York Times, which reported that a letter ostensibly written by the attorney general alleging that the EPA overestimated air pollution from natural gas drilling was actually written by the company's attorneys. "That's actually called representative government in my view of the world," Pruitt later said of the letter.
The emails' release comes just days after Pruitt was confirmed as the EPA's new leader. Senate Democrats and environmental groups made a last-minute push to delay his confirmation vote last week, contending that lawmakers -- and the public -- ought to be able to review his correspondence with industry officials before putting him in charge of safeguarding the nation's environment. Republicans forged ahead anyway, and Pruitt was confirmed by a 52-to-46 vote.
In a statement Tuesday, the Oklahoma attorney general's office said it "went above and beyond what is required under the Open Records Act and produced thousands of additional documents that, but for the Court's order, would typically be considered records" outside the scope of the act.
"This broad disclosure should provide affirmation that, despite politically motivated allegations, the Office of the Attorney General remains fully committed to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act," spokesman Lincoln Ferguson said.
Pruitt's office at EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
In an email, Devon Energy spokesman John Porretto said that the company's engagement with Pruitt during his time as attorney general was "consistent -- and proportionate -- with our commitment to engage in conversations with policymakers on a broad range of matters that promote jobs, economic growth and a robust domestic energy sector."
He added, "We have a clear obligation to our shareholders and others to be involved in these discussions related to job growth, economic growth and domestic energy . . . It would be indefensible for us to not be engaged in these important issues."
The Oklahoma attorney general's office withheld some documents as exempted or privileged and has asked Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons to review whether they should be released, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. Timmons also ordered Pruitt's former office to hand over records related to five outstanding records requests by early next week.
After unsuccessfully seeking the release of Pruitt's correspondence with fossil-fuel representatives under public records laws, the center filed suit over his refusal to turn over the documents and requested the expedited hearing that led to Timmons's order on Thursday. In her ruling, the judge said there had been "an abject failure to provide prompt and reasonable access to documents requested."
Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times during the Obama administration, challenging the agency's authority to regulate toxic mercury pollution, smog, carbon emissions from power plants and the quality of wetlands and other waters.
During his tenure in Oklahoma, he dismantled a specialized environmental protection unit that had existed under his Democratic predecessor and established a "federalism unit" to combat what he called "unwarranted regulation and systematic overreach" by Washington.
These moves earned him widespread opposition from environmental activists but praise from fellow Republicans and industry representatives, who saw him as a friend to businesses and a staunch opponent of federal regulations they called unnecessary and burdensome.
On Tuesday, Pruitt addressed EPA employees for the first time as their new boss. He spoke of stepping back from the aggressive regulations of recent years and said there needn't be a contradiction between environmental protection and energy production or job creation.
"We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment," he said. "We don't have to choose between the two."
Pruitt Emails Show Cozy Ties to Fossil Fuel Industry
Steve Horn, Sharon Kelly and Graham Readfearn / DeSmogBlog
(February 2017) -- The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has published thousands of emails obtained from the office of former Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who was recently sworn in as the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Trump administration.
Housed online in searchable form by CMD, the emails cover Pruitt's time spent as the Sooner State's lead legal advocate and in particular show a "close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt's office and the fossil fuel industry," CMD said in a press release. CMD was forced to go to court in Oklahoma to secure the release of the emails, which had sat in a queue for two years after the organization had filed an open records request.
Among other things, the emails show extensive communication with hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") giant Devon Energy, with Pruitt's office not only involved in discussions with Devon about energy-related issues like proposed US Bureau of Land Management fracking rules, but also more tangential matters like how a proposed airline merger might affect Devon's international travel costs.
They also show a close relationship with groups such as the Koch Industries-funded Americans for Prosperity and the Oklahoma Public Policy Council, the latter a member of the influential conservative State Policy Network.
On the US Bureau of Land Management fracking rule, Pruitt's office solicited input from Devon, the Oklahoma City fracking company, which seemed to incorporate the feedback in the company's formal legal response. Pruitt's office was aiming to sue the US Bureau of Land Management on the proposed rules, a case multiple states eventually won, getting indispensable aid in the effort from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
"Any suggestions?" Pruitt's office wrote in a May 1, 2013 email to a Devon vice president. Attachments missing from the Freedom of Information Act response make it unclear to what extent edits suggested by Devon were actually inserted into the Attorney General's correspondence, although Pruitt's deputy later wrote "thanks for all your help on this."
In two other emails dated May 1, 2013, a Devon Energy director replied with suggested changes to Pruitt's office. The next day, Pruitt's office sent the final draft of the letter to Devon, which replied, "I'm glad the Devon team could help and thanks for all of your work on this."
This batch of emails was not among those published by the New York Times as a part of its investigation into the correspondence Pruitt and other Republican state-level Attorneys General had with energy companies, which revealed that Devon had ghostwritten letters which Pruitt's office sent to federal officials and agencies.
Cut and Paste
Another section of the emails (page 562) shows that an official from Edison Electric Institute emailed Pruitt's office to solicit an article for the Air and Waste Management Association Journal on the topic of regional haze. When Pruitt's spokesman said the office will not be able to make the deadline, the Edison Electric Institute official told them not to worry because it can "be cut and paste from past editorials and court filings, language that has already been approved in the past."
It does not appear Pruitt's office ever wrote the article, however. But that same month, Stuart Solomon, president of Public Service Company of Oklahoma (a subsidiary of American Electric Power), thanked Pruitt "personally" in a February 2014 email for its help fending off the EPA's proposed regional haze rule.
"We are pleased the EPA has approved a plan developed by PSO and state leaders," Stuart Solomon, president and chief operating officer for Public Service Company of Oklahoma, said in a press release at the time. "I want to thank Governor Fallin and her administration for their leadership and assistance in helping develop this plan along with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality."
Pruitt and his office were not thanked within the press release. In July 2016, the US Court of Appears issued a stay on that rule and it was never promulgated.
The emails also shed new light on the relationship between Pruitt and the sphere of advocacy outfits and legal groups funded by Koch Industries' billionaires Charles and David Koch.
For example, Pruitt and many other Attorneys General -- plus industry actors at companies such as Southern Company, ConocoPhillips, Chesapeake Energy, TransCanada, Devon Energy, Marathon Oil and others -- received an invitation (see page 560) to an event hosted by George Mason University, the Koch-funded libertarian bastion, at its Mason Attorneys General Education Program. That invite came from Henry Butler, dean of the George Mason University School of Law.
Harold Hamm, President Trump's campaign energy adviser, was also included on the list of those invited, as well. An email attachment of the invite was not included in the batch.
Beyond George Mason, the emails also show Pruitt's office maintained communications (see page 683) with Americans for Prosperity Oklahoma state director, John Tidwell, as well as with State Policy Network member Oklahoma Public Policy Council. State Policy Network receives Koch money.
Too Little, Too Late?
These are some of the highlights found within the massive batch of emails. CMD argued, as the Democratic party's Senate leadership posited, that these emails would have been useful in doing their constitutional "advise and consent" confirmation process work for Pruitt.
"There is no valid legal justification for the emails we received last night not being released prior to Pruitt's confirmation vote other than to evade public scrutiny," said Arn Pearson, general counsel for CMD. "There are hundreds of emails between the Attorney General's office, Devon Energy and other polluters that Senators should have been permitted to review prior to their vote to assess Pruitt's ties to the fossil fuel industry."
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.