“It’s really astonishing for someone in a position of public trust to give such special privilege to some of the richest corporations, the richest interests in our country, over the interests of ordinary Americans for cleaner water, cleaner air, for efforts to address harm to our climate.”–LISA GRAVES, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy.
Days After Pruitt Becomes EPA Head, Newly Released Emails Show His Ties to Koch Bros. & Energy Firms
executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy.
Thousands of pages of newly released emails reveal how EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt closely collaborated with oil, coal and gas companies backed by the Koch brothers to roll back environmental regulations during his time as Oklahoma attorney general. The documents were released just days after Pruitt was sworn in as the new head of the EPA, the agency tasked with curtailing pollution and safeguarding public health. Last week, Senate Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to postpone Pruitt’s final confirmation until the emails were released, but Republicans pressed forward and confirmed him in a 52-46 vote, largely along party lines. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times. The trove of new documents shows how energy companies drafted language for Pruitt’s Attorney General’s Office to use to sue the EPA over environmental regulations. We speak to Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which successfully sued for the emails to be released.
AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of pages of newly released emails reveal how EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt closely collaborated with oil, coal and gas companies backed by the Koch brothers to roll back environmental regulations during his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general. The documents were released just days after Pruitt was sworn in as the new head of the EPA, the agency tasked with curtailing pollution and safeguarding public health. Last week, Senate Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to postpone Pruitt’s final confirmation until the emails were released, but Republicans pressed forward and confirmed him in a 52-to-46 vote, largely along party lines.
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times. The trove of new documents show how energy companies drafted language for Pruitt’s Attorney General Office to use to sue the EPA over environmental regulations. In an email from August 2013 from Matt Ball of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity to Pruitt’s communications director, Ball writes, quote, “Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states. You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!”
These documents were obtained by the media watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy after a lengthy battle. The emails were released because a judge ordered them released.
Lisa, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what these emails show. You just got thousands of them in the last two days.
LISA GRAVES: Well, these emails help show the cozy relationship between Scott Pruitt and the industries that he was tasked with regulating as the Oklahoma attorney general. And so, what they reveal is more of that relationship, the way in which he was praised by the Koch brothers’ operatives, the way in which he was urged by energy company lobbyists to just cut and paste from their materials and from other documents that they had jointly or worked on together to produce. And this is part of a longer investigation that we’ve been conducting about Scott Pruitt and about the Republican Attorneys General Association, where you can see, through the documentation we’ve obtained, how much these industries are paying to curry favor with these attorneys general. And in this instance, you have this man who now is the head of our Environmental Protection Agency and has such close relationships. And I think that the Republican senators, Senator McConnell and the White House were eager to rush his nomination through, because they feared that more information, more evidence, would come out about the closeness of those relationships. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We know they’re still stonewalling us. We know that there are many thousands more emails that they have failed to produce and that are part of our ongoing set of requests for information about Scott Pruitt and about the communications of his office with these industries, including Devon Energy, Koch Industries and more.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go through some of the emails. In 2013, a lobbyist from the law firm Hunton & Williams, which represents major utility companies, sent Pruitt’s deputy solicitor general a white paper and talking points. The lobbyist suggested the staffer should, quote, “cut and paste” from it when encouraging other states to file comments on an EPA protection aimed at addressing air pollution.
LISA GRAVES: Well, right. I mean, you have that, that email that just came out, as well as the emails that were discussed by Eric Lipton in his New York Times story that won a Pulitzer Prize back in 2014, 2015. What you can see from that is this idea—that email, other emails—that maybe it’s—maybe we should call him “Cut-and-Paste Pruitt,” because, basically, the relationship between industry and industry groups or utilities and Pruitt’s office was so close that there are numerous references to saying just cut and paste this, cut and paste that. You know, that’s not what we expect of our attorneys general. That’s not what we expect of the head of the EPA. These guys are not supposed to be doing the bidding of private industry. Private industry has its own lawyers. The lawyer who is the head of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is supposed to represent all the people and the public interest, just as the head of the EPA is supposed to represent all Americans, not just the corporations. And yet you have this man who has basically spent his life’s work advancing the industry position, targeting and attacking efforts to regulate the toxin of mercury, other serious pollutants, trying to undermine efforts to address the harms to our climate and more. And so that email is just one of many that shows this pattern that we see of this cut-and-paste idea for Scott Pruitt and his team.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the relationship that is exposed through these thousands of pages of emails that you got through a lawsuit, a judge ruling just—what was it?—last Thursday, last week, that these should be released immediately, and the Senate moving very quickly to confirm Pruitt before the emails were delivered to you.
LISA GRAVES: That’s correct. The judge ordered that the first set of documents—that order came down on Thursday afternoon, and there was plenty of time for the Senate to wait to get answers, in part because it wasn’t just our requests that were unanswered, but also numerous requests by senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee, that Pruitt was stonewalling them, as well. But there was this rush to push him through. Why the rush? There was no need for him to be advanced so quickly to helm the EPA. The Senate is entitled to that information. More importantly, the American people are entitled to that information.
And what these emails show is a very friendly relationship between Pruitt’s team and these energy companies. At one point, there’s an email that talks about his chief of staff wanting to get a special tour, basically, to the top of Devon Tower, the biggest skyscraper in Oklahoma, you know, because of this relationship they’ve cultivated with these energy companies. But there’s more. You know, there’s more praise from these energy companies for the job he’s doing. And beyond that, as part of our ongoing investigation, we’ve helped document how Scott Pruitt has done closed-door briefings with some huge—some of the hugest energy companies in the country, including Murray Energy, in which they—in which the panel was calling the Clean Power Plan dangerous, the idea that we should be taking measures to address carbon dangerous. These are extreme positions. They’re the positions of industry. And you see it over and over again in these emails, the closeness, the coziness of these industry lobbyists, these lawyers and the office that Scott Pruitt was running in Oklahoma.
AMY GOODMAN: Last month, the EPA administrator nominee at the time, Pruitt, testified in front of the Senate during his confirmation hearings. Senator Jeff Merkley questioned Pruitt about a 2011 letter the Oklahoma attorney general sent to the EPA opposing regulations limiting emissions from the energy sector. Senator Merkley said much of the letter was largely written by the Oklahoma energy company Devon Energy.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: You used your office as a direct extension of an oil company, rather than a direct extension of the interests of the public health of the people of Oklahoma. Do you acknowledge that you presented a private oil company’s position rather than a position developed by the people of Oklahoma?
SCOTT PRUITT: Senator, I—with respect, I disagree. The efforts that I took as attorney general were representing the interests of the state of Oklahoma.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: Why do you need an outside oil company to draft a letter when you have 250 people working for you?
SCOTT PRUITT: Senator, as I’ve indicated, that was an effort that was protecting the state’s interest and making sure that we made the voices of all Oklahomans heard on a very important industry to our state. There was concern—
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: You said all heard, but you only sent it on behalf of a single voice: the oil company. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Senator Merkley questioning Scott Pruitt, who was just approved as EPA administrator. Your response, Lisa Graves?
LISA GRAVES: Well, Senator Merkley got that exactly right. It’s really astonishing for someone in a position of public trust to give such special privilege to some of the richest corporations, the richest interests in our country, over the interests of ordinary Americans for cleaner water, cleaner air, for efforts to address harm to our climate. And I have to say, if the American people want to learn more about the swamp that Trump is drawing from, not draining, but the swamp that he’s perpetuating and expanding, they can go listen to that C-SPAN debate all night last Thursday into Friday morning, where Senator Whitehouse, Senator Merkley, other senators were speaking out eloquently about the conflicts that Mr. Pruitt’s actions represent, the concerns, the grave concerns, they have about what he will do to our environmental protections, and just the depth of his stonewalling of the Senate, and, more importantly, the American people, about the true extent of his relationships with these companies and how much he will use his office to do their bidding and not to advance the interests of all people. And that letter that Senator Merkley pointed out is a salutary example of how he perceives his role is to represent their interests. He thinks that that’s basically representative government action. Those corporations don’t have a right to vote. People do. The American people have a say in these measures, and these statutes are on the books to protect us, not to protect oil companies and energy companies, who have polluted our waters and our air and have harmed our climate.
AMY GOODMAN: Lisa, I want to get to two other issues. One is the headline today, Trump rescinding the Obama directive on bathroom use, dropping protection for transgender youth. Clearly, now, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has played a key role in this. You wrote a letter opposing Jeff Sessions as attorney general. We’re seeing this as one of his first acts. Can you quickly comment?
LISA GRAVES: Well, I’m not surprised, but I’m gravely disappointed, that the Office of the Attorney General would be used in the way that Senator Sessions, now Attorney General Sessions, is using it to advance discriminatory policies, policies that hurt some of our most vulnerable people in our country. And those are our young people who face such a high risk of suicide. I think it’s an indictment of his character, of Jeff Sessions’ character, that he would push his office forward to undo the protections that have been put in place to try to protect these young people.