Updated, Feb. 22, 2017, 1:08 p.m. PT
Oklahoma City — As a result of an Open Records Act request and lawsuit filed by the Center for Media and Democracy, on Tuesday night the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office released a batch of more than 7,500 pages of emails and other records it withheld prior to Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA Administrator last Friday.
The AG’s office has withheld an undetermined number of additional documents as exempted or privileged and submitted them to the Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons for review. A number of other documents were redacted, and CMD will be asking for the court to review those as well. On February 27, the AG’s office has been ordered to deliver records related to five outstanding requests by CMD.
“Despite repeated attempts by Pruitt and the Oklahoma AG’s office to stonewall CMD and the public, we’ve won a major breakthrough in obtaining access to public records that shine a light on Pruitt’s emails with polluters and their proxies,” said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy. “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. And our work doesn’t stop here – we will keep fighting until all of the public records involving Pruitt’s dealings with energy corporations are released – both those for which his office is now asserting some sort of privilege against public disclosure and the documents relevant to our eight other Open Records Act requests.”
“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 AG’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.”
Among the documents released late yesterday, CMD has found:
- The oil and gas lobby group American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) coordinated opposition in 2013 to both the Renewable Fuel Standard Program and ozone limits with Pruitt’s office. While AFPM was making its own case against the RFS with the American Petroleum Institute, it provided Pruitt with a template language for an Oklahoma petition, noting “this argument is more credible coming from a State.” Later that year, Pruitt did file opposition to both the RFS and ozone limits.
- In a groundbreaking New York Times Pulitzer winning series in 2014, Eric Lipton exposed the close relationship between Devon Energy and Scott Pruitt, and highlighted examples where Devon Energy drafted letters that were sent by Pruitt under his own name. These new emails reveal more of the same close relationship with Devon Energy. In one email, Devon Energy helped draft language that was later sent by Pruitt to the EPA about the limiting of methane from oil and gas fracking.
- In 2013, Devon Energy organized a meeting between Scott Pruitt, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and coal industry lawyer Paul Seby to plan the creation of a “clearinghouse” that would “assist AGs in addressing federalism issues.” Melissa Houston, then Pruitt’s chief of staff emailed Devon Energy saying “this will be an amazing resource for the AGs and for industry.”
In her ruling, Judge Timmons slammed the Attorney General’s office for its “abject failure” to abide by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
The judge gave Pruitt’s office until Tuesday, February 21, to turn over more than 2,500 emails it withheld from CMD’s January 2015 records request, and ordered the office to turn over an undetermined number of documents responsive to CMD’s five additional open records requests outstanding between November 2015 and August 2016 by February 27. No deadline has been yet set for a further three outstanding open records requests.
On February 10, Pruitt’s office responded to the oldest of CMD’s nine outstanding Open Records Act requests but provided just 411 of the more than 3,000 emails they had located, withholding thousands of emails relevant to the request and still failing to respond to CMD’s eight other outstanding requests. On February 14 CMD filed a status report with the judge detailing the scope of missing documents, including 27 emails that were previously turned over to The New York Times in 2014.
Pruitt’s continued lack of transparency extends from a difficult nomination process in which research from CMD demonstrated Pruitt’s repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests, including private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund.
On Friday, after Pruitt was confirmed as EPA Administrator, Senator Whitehouse cautioned that the GOP “will rue the day that they had this nomination rammed through the Senate on the very day that the emails were being litigated in Oklahoma, in order to get ahead of any counterpressure.”
An earlier version of this piece ran on CDN’s page. Read it here.
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