New EPA head Scott Pruitt's emails indicate close ties to oil and gas producers

The 7,000 emails released today show intimate coordination with lobbyists.

BySHUSHANNAH WALSHE and RYAN STRUYK
February 22, 2017, 5:56 PM

— -- More than 7,000 pages of emails from Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt indicate a cozy relationship with oil and gas producers, fossil fuel companies, electric companies, as well as political groups tied to the Koch Brothers during his time as Oklahoma Attorney General.

The emails -- made public Wednesday by an Oklahoma judge in response to a lawsuit by liberal watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy -- indicate coordination between Pruitt and these Koch-backed groups with the goal of undermining the Obama administration's efforts to help curb carbon emissions and prevent climate change.

Pruitt was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate (52-46) to be the EPA's administrator Friday after a contentious confirmation process while facing protests from Democrats and environmental groups not only because of his ties to energy companies, but because as Oklahoma’s attorney general he sued the EPA 14 times.

Some emails show that companies like Devon Energy in 2013 provided Pruitt's office with draft letters to send to government regulators in an attempt to block those regulations. Some of this was publicly known because some of the emails were previously released to the New York Times in 2014.

“Please find attached a short white paper with some talking points that you might find useful to cut and paste when encouraging States to file comments on the SSM rule,” wrote a lobbyist at Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents major utility companies. The SSM rule relates to industrial emissions.

Democrats attempted to hold off on Pruitt’s confirmation until these emails were released, but they were unsuccessful.

“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,” reads another email sent to Pruitt from an executive at the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!”

The emails also show how Pruitt’s office appeared to work with these companies to draft these letters for Pruitt to sign to try and prevent new regulations.

“Any suggestions?” a deputy solicitor general in Pruitt’s office wrote in May 2013 to an executive at Devon Energy, an oil and gas production company. The email to the executive, Bill Whitsitt, included a draft Pruitt’s office appeared to be planning to send to the EPA regarding proposed emissions regulations.

Whitsitt replied with what looks like proposed changes: “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.”

The deputy solicitor general replied the next day telling Whitsitt he had sent the letter, writing “Thanks for all your help on this.”

In another email in January 2013, Pruitt’s chief of staff at the time gushed to Whitsitt: “You are so amazingly helpful!!! Thank you so much!!!”

"Our engagement with Scott Pruitt as Attorney General of Oklahoma is 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," a spokesperson for Devon Energy told ABC News. "In some cases, we serve as a resource with useful information and expertise for decision-makers ... It would be indefensible for us to not be engaged in these important issues."

Lincoln Ferguson, the press secretary for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office released a statement writing that their office has "complied with a Court’s order regarding a January 2015 Open Records Act request.”

"In fact, the Office 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,” Ferguson said. "This broad disclosure should provide affirmation that, despite politically motivated allegations, the Office of Attorney General remains fully committed to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act.”

Americans for Prosperity declined comment.

“The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry,” Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, wrote in an email Wednesday.

Hunton & Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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