#CrookedScotty — Scott Pruitt’s Emails Reveal His Corporate Corruption
Hillary Clinton’s emails dominated coverage of the 2016 election season. Clinton’s opponents saw leaks from the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign as evidence for their long-held belief that Hillary Clinton paid lip-service to the common people in public but cozied-up to corporate interests behind closed doors. In one memorable excerpt from the leaked emails, Clinton told a group of apartment building industry bosses that in politics “you need both a public and a private position.” Hillary Clinton’s email scandals — real, exaggerated, and imagined — no doubt played a role in stopping her ascension to the Oval Office.
Now, over a month into the Donald Trump-Mike Pence administration, emails reveal the corporate entanglements of newly-installed director of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt. In Pruitt’s case (with a little help from his friends in the Senate), the emails were released after his ascension to his new job in Washington. The emails show that the fossil fuel industry crafts Pruitt’s agenda, his talking points, and even his official government correspondence. This is a politician who not only cozies-up to corporate interests, but is comfortably in bed with them. And the pillow talk is having an unhealthy impact on Scott Pruitt’s worldview.
The over 7,000 pages of emails shed light on Scott Pruitt’s close relationship with the oil and gas sector, electricity utilities, and billionaire-funded political groups during his career as Oklahoma attorney general.
For years, Pruitt refused to release the emails despite lawsuits against his attorney general’s office and requests under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act. But last week, a Oklahoma court found that Pruitt was violating the Act, and gave Pruitt’s office until February 21 to turnover a batch of emails first requested by the liberal watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy in January 2015.
This extensive trail of emails reads like a years-long chain of love letters between soul mates.
— Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group president
The released emails detail how Pruitt worked closely with industry to fight the environmental regulations of the agency he now leads. Pruitt’s relationship with his corporate buddies was so close that it appears to have often crossed the line from a government official co-coordinating with private industry to a government official taking orders from private industry.
For example, Pruitt’s office worked with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM)— a powerful industry lobby group “representing 98 percent of oil refining capacity in the United States” — to oppose EPA rules mandating renewable energy production and limitations on smog-causing chemicals.
According to The New York Times, in 2013, Pruitt met with AFPM lawyers and the group sent Pruitt’s office the language they wanted used in a petition against the rules. The AFPM’s general council Richard Moskowitz stressed that Pruitt was a valuable asset to the cause. In an email to a Pruitt aide, Moskowitz rightly noted the “argument is more credible coming from a state.” Later that year, Pruitt filled petitions against both rules the AFPM opposed.
In another email exchange, Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity (AFP), suggested talking points for Pruitt at an AFP-sponsored event “EPA Regulations and Your Pocket Book.” AFP is an influential right-wing lobby group funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, owners of the giant conglomerate Koch Industries. The Kochs pledged to spend $899 million on the 2016 election.
The email revelations are not surprising. The NYT first uncovered that then-Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt was acting as a surrogate for the energy industry in December 2014. In an email exchange The NYT obtained through an open-records request, an official with Oklahoma-based oil and gas giant Devon Energy thanked Pruitt for sending a letter to the EPA, which claimed that the agency was overestimating the pollution Oklahoma’s energy companies caused from drilling new natural gas wells. Although the three-page letter — on official state government stationary — bore Pruitt’s signature, the letter was secretly written by Devon Energy lawyers. After Devon’s head lobbyist gave the letter to Pruitt, the attorney general’s staff made “only a few word changes” before sending it to Washington.
Before Donald Trump picked Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, Pruitt was perhaps best known for filling or joining 14 lawsuits against the EPA. Among the rules Pruitt challenged were regulations on mercury pollution, ozone pollution, and greenhouse gases. Pruitt also challenged the Clean Power Plan four times. In all but one of the 14 cases against the EPA, industry players who gave money to Pruitt’s political campaigns were involved in the litigation.
Last month, during his Senate confirmation hearing for EPA directer, Scott Pruitt signaled his continued subservience to the industry. For example, Bernie Sanders grilled Pruitt about his views on climate change but Pruitt evaded and obfuscated. He refused to acknowledge that human activity is causing climate change, and claimed that “human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it.” This is a classic tactic straight out of Big Oil’s playbook meant to confuse the public about the scientific consensus on climate change.
After the court ordered the release of Pruitt’s emails by February 21, some Democrats intensified their attempts to delay Pruitt's confirmation. On the eve of his confirmation, Democratic Senators testified against Pruitt into the early morning but Republican leaders used their Senate majority to push the process forward. The Senate confirmed Pruitt as EPA administrator early in the afternoon of February 17. The vote was 54–46. Despite the forthcoming email release, two Democrats — North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin — broke with the party line and voted for Pruitt.
Even within the conflict of interest-plagued Trump-Pence administration, putting Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA seems extraordinary. This is a man who has committed his life to fighting against environmental protections and literally acted as an agent of the energy industry. There is no reason to believe that he will now commit himself to protecting the environment and enforcing rules on the industry he has faithfully served for so long.
As bad as what we already know about Scott Pruitt’s subservience to corporate interests is, the worst may be yet to come. The Oklahoma attorney general’s office redacted some emails and withheld an unknown number documents from the release. This raises the obvious question — what is Scott Pruitt hiding? Although the answer remains to be seen, what we already know about Pruitt’s corporate ties makes it clear that the Environmental Protection Agency is now the most ironically named entity in government. Public resistance to Scott Pruitt’s corporate agenda is vital.