Senate Dems Grill Trump’s EPA Pick Over Energy Donations

January 18, 2017, 5:11 PM

— -- President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency faced tough questions during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday about allegations he has, essentially, been bought and paid for by the nation’s oil, gas and coal companies.

They are allegations Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has denied – at one point telling an Oklahoma newspaper that his frequent court filings on behalf of energy interests are “actually called representative government in my view of the world.”

Records reviewed by ABC News show Pruitt has repeatedly accepted donations from companies within days of taking official actions that support those companies.

That included having Oklahoma twice join lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of Ohio-based Murray Energy, among the largest privately owned coal companies in the nation. Within a month of each filing, Murray Energy made a donation to the Republican Attorneys General Association, an organization where Pruitt served two terms as chairman, raising his national profile.

“This is an extremely disturbing pattern of behavior,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, a spokeswoman for the League of Conservation Voters. “He has sued the EPA a whopping 14 times as Attorney General, all while taking extremely large amounts of money.”

It’s a pattern that has not escaped the attention of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

“It's the tightest bond between an industry and a cabinet nominee, I think anybody has ever seen around here,” Whitehouse told ABC News. “He's virtually always in lock step with this industry. And I have yet to see a single occasion where he's stepped out of line.”

Asked about these claims, Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent said that “Murray Energy’s support for the Republican Governors Association is not tied to any one action.”

But, he said the company is eager to see Pruitt confirmed.

“Attorney General Pruitt has been a strong advocate for a fair and balanced approach to environmental protections, which follows the letter of the law,” Broadbent said. “We believe that he will be a valuable asset to the Trump Administration and to the citizens of the United States.”

At the hearing today, Pruit was asked by Whitehouse if he solicited money from a number of energy companies while attorney general.

Pruitt said that he “attended fundraising events as an attorney general along with other attorneys general.”

He denied asking Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, Murray Energy and Devon Energy for money.

Whitehouse later said, “it appears that a great deal of your fundraising comes from these organizations who are in the energy sector and devoted to fight climate change.”

Pruitt has in the past garnered words of support from Devon Energy, a company that made political contributions to Pruitt within weeks of asking him to write a letter to the EPA defending the company’s position on fracking – a case first reported by The New York Times.

John Porretto, a Devon Energy spokesman said the contributions were “in no way linked to any efforts or activities of Mr. Pruitt.”

“We share his common-sense commitment to sensible regulation at all levels of government to protect and conserve our natural environment,” Porretto told ABC News before the hearing. “We also appreciate his understanding of the legal and regulatory issues facing our industry, including the economic harm from federal overreach into state regulatory authority.”

Whitehouse said before the hearing that Democrats on the senate committee conducting Pruitt’s confirmation hearing had asked the nominee to disclose to them the names of donors to an organization he chairs called the “Rule of Law Defense Fund.” Because of the way the organization is set up, it does not have to name its donors.

“Some of those funds and some of the entities that gave them money are what we call dark money organizations,” Whitehouse said. “You don't know who's behind the contribution and you can't find out.”

Pruitt remained largely silent in the run-up to his confirmation hearing. He declined through a spokesman to speak with ABC News.

Tuesday night, the Trump transition team released a copy of his opening remarks for his Senate appearance.

In it, he vows to “put an end” to what he calls “the never-ending torrent of regulations” coming from the EPA.

However, during the actual opening remarks in today’s hearing, he made no such vow.

ABC News' Randy Kreider, Alex Hosenball and Megan Christie contributed to this report.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events