Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...
By Brian Dabbs
The likely nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has regularly repackaged fossil fuel industry positions into state policy, Senate Democrats alleged in a Dec. 27 letter.
Those lawmakers, who include some of the staunchest EPA supporters in the chamber, urged Pruitt to disclose his full relationship with the energy industry prior to Senate hearings on his nomination. All the signatories sit on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which will host Pruitt’s hearings.
“We have been troubled that as Attorney General of Oklahoma you used, nearly verbatim, industry talking points in official correspondence your office sent to EPA concerning EPA’s estimation of methane pollution in your state,” the lawmakers said. “What that conduct says about your ability to lead EPA in a manner that is not beholden to special or secret interests is a subject that we expect will receive a full airing during your confirmation hearing.”
At least some of those talking points came from lobbyists tied to Devon Energy, an onshore oil and gas producer based in Oklahoma City, said Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).
The New York Times unearthed in 2014 Devon correspondence with Pruitt that led to an Oklahoma challenge to the methane pollution estimate. Oklahoma policy officials and lawmakers, however, dismissed those allegations as political gamesmanship.
“It’s not uncommon for us, as state officials, to rely on the complete body of evidence and information as we present our policies going forward, and it’s not uncommon to rely on the regulated community as part of that equation,” J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and a former water quality official, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview. “The letter seems to insinuate he’s a puppet for the industry, but I certainly have never seen that play out in any of his policies or work.”
The letter also highlights Pruitt’s relationship with the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a private group that has challenged a range of federal regulations, including the Clean Power Plan. Internal Revenue Service filings show that Pruitt is a director of the organization, as is Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and other state attorneys general.
The letter said Freedom Partners, a conservative advocacy group, has contributed $175,000 to the fund during the past three years. Democratic staffers for the letter signatories didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA requests for comment on the suggestions of impropriety related to the fund.
“The confirmation process, starting with your responses to Committee questions before your hearing, is an opportunity for you to dispel the notion that the advocacy you have undertaken on environmental issues as Attorney General of Oklahoma has been directed by and for the benefit of the energy industry,” the letter said.
The senators asked for a list of fund donors, funding requests and expenditures, among other organizational details.
Counsel to the fund, Clark Hill PLC’s Charles Spies and James Tyrrell, however, urged Pruitt to dismiss the disclosure request, alleging it has no “legal significance.”
“The Internal Revenue Code and the Treasury Department’s regulations make clear that tax-exempt organizations like [the Rule of Law Defense Fund] are not required to share their donors’ names, addresses, or other identifying information with the public,” said Spies and Tyrrell, also pointing to corroborating legal decisions. “In accordance with these laws and precedent, it is [the fund’s] longstanding policy to maintain donor confidentiality and not disclose the identity of its donors to the public, even to former members of [the fund’s] Board like you.”
Meanwhile, outgoing Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a staunch supporter of Pruitt, said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA that the disclosure request was a fishing expedition.
“This letter extends beyond the usual questioning of an EPA nominee’s record, and it seems these questions might best be directed to the Republican Attorneys General Association,” said Inhofe. “While I disagreed with most of the nominees under President Obama, I aired my concerns consistent with committee practice, and I suggest my Democratic colleagues do the same instead of this fishing expedition. This is a baseless political stunt that AG Pruitt has no responsibility to entertain.”
Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, told Bloomberg BNA there is currently no pending or completed litigation and no settlement agreements involving Pruitt and either Devon Energy or the Rule of Law Defense Fund.
To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington, D.C., at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)