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Senators call on Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt to explain connections to oil industry, funds ahead of EPA confirmation

OKLAHOMA CITY – For years, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been an outspoken adversary of the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, he is currently suing the EPA.

Earlier this month, President-elect Donald Trump selected Pruitt to lead the agency despite concerns from lawmakers.

A 2014 New York Times report claimed that Pruitt’s ties to Devon Energy Corporation directly influenced decisions he made while in office.

Through open records requests, the New York Times obtained a letter written by Devon’s attorneys, which was then taken to Pruitt.

The article states, “The attorney general’s staff had taken Devon’s draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general’s signature.”

In 2014, KFOR asked for a comment to the allegations, but received a statement focusing on the benefits of the oil industry.

“The article did not accurately reflect what motivates my service and how we seek to make decisions on advancing these cases. Our responsibility is to protect Oklahoma’s interest when any federal agency seeks to displace the authority granted to the state under federal law. This administration has given us plenty of opportunity to litigate those matters in regards to energy, the environment, and health care and that is what is driving us, nothing more or nothing less.”

“It should come as no surprise that I am working diligently with Oklahoma energy companies, the people of Oklahoma and the majority of attorneys general to fight the unlawful overreach of the EPA and other federal agencies. This administration’s effort to impose anti-fossil fuel policies are short-sighted, and unconstitutional and I will continue to fight the administration’s unconstitutional maneuvers at every step of the way. Oklahomans understand and appreciate the impact energy companies have on our state. The energy industry provides thousands of good-paying jobs and counts for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues that support education, public safety and roads and bridges in our state. The rules and regulations imposed unlawfully and inconsistently by the EPA have real-world implications for the citizens and state of Oklahoma. The EPA’s decision on Regional Haze, for instance, will cause the utility rates of Oklahomans to increase more than 20 percent all while only resulting in a miniscule improvement in air visibility. Others outside Oklahoma may not realize this important fact, but the administration’s unprecedented moves to target energy companies will cost jobs, raise utility rates and are a major obstacle standing in the way of American energy independence.” – AG Scott Pruitt

Now, six senators from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are asking Pruitt to list his connections to energy companies so they can decide whether those interactions will affect how he will run the EPA.

“We have been troubled that as Attorney General of Oklahoma you used, nearly verbatim, industry talking points in official correspondence your office sent to EPA concerning EPA’s estimation of methane pollution in your state. Thanks to news reporting prior to your nomination, we now know about your close relationship with Devon Energy and that you appear to have been willing to accept its representations about its business practices without independent confirmation or analysis. That reporting, based on documents produced by your office pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests, also documented how you and members of your staff have worked closely with fossil fuel industry lobbyists to craft a position taken by your office. What that conduct says about your ability to lead EPA in a manner that is not beholden to special or secret interests in a subject that we expect will receive a full airing during your confirmation hearing,” the letter from the senators read.

The group also cited Pruitt’s relationship with the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which is supported by the Koch brothers. They ask Pruitt to detail his connections and contributions to the fund, and a “list of all federal and state legislation or regulations the Fund has taken a position on, Fund-organized legal briefs and letters to federal lawmakers, and all actions you have taken with respect to those matters.”

“The confirmation process, starting with your responses to Committee questions before your hearing, is an opportunity for you to dispel the notion that the advocacy you have undertaken on environmental issues as Attorney General of Oklahoma has been directed by and for the benefit of the energy industry,” the letter concludes.

A spokesman for the Rule of Law Defense Fund told Reuters that the group is launching “politically motivated attacks” against his organization, adding that his donor confidentiality is upheld by by the Supreme Court.

U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe released the following statement regarding the letter:

“The EPW Committee has a process of properly vetting nominees and Wednesday’s letter sent by a few of my Democratic colleagues is not a part of it. This letter raises a couple of issues, one of which is Pruitt’s work in response to EPA’s methane emission estimations.  The EPA’s methane rule affects many states and Pruitt’s work to ensure EPA relies on accurate information is an effort many in Congress have been pursuing for years.  The other issue raised in this letter is about the operations of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association on which Pruitt served on the board with many other attorneys general throughout the country. This letter extends beyond the usual questioning of an EPA nominee’s record, and it seems these questions might best be directed to the Republican Attorneys General Association.  Democrats will have an opportunity to ask AG Pruitt questions at the nomination hearing, and may follow up with their written questions after.  While I disagreed with most of the nominees under President Obama, I aired my concerns consistent with committee practice, and I suggest my Democratic colleagues do the same instead of this fishing expedition.  This is a baseless political stunt that AG Pruitt has no responsibility to entertain.”    – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)