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Judge orders Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to release emails related to fossil fuel industry

Oklahoma Attorney General and President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on Capitol Hill January 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

OKLAHOMA CITY – A judge has ruled that Americans have a right to know how much of a relationship Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has with oil and gas leaders before becoming the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

For years, Pruitt has been an outspoken adversary of the EPA and is currently suing the agency.

In December, President 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 in Oklahoma.

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

Six senators from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asked 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.

Earlier this month, the ACLU and a watchdog group filed a lawsuit, alleging the Pruitt violated the Open Records Act.

The watchdog group is suing for thousands of emails between Pruitt and leaders in the energy sector and a political action committee that helped block President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Center for Media and Democracy filed nine open records requests with the AG’s office, beginning in January 2015.

“Probably the largest request we have is for communication: emails, phone calls, [and] scheduling related to his involvement with various energy companies, as well as his involvement with the republican attorney general’s association,” attorney Blake Lawrence said.

The group alleges that Pruitt received nearly $350,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. They want his dealings with those in the industry public – and soon.

“Just last week our office contacted the Center for Media and Democracy to notify them that release of their request was imminent. The fact that they have now filed suit despite our ongoing communications demonstrates that this is nothing more than political theater,” AG spokesperson Lincoln Ferguson said in a statement.

According to the Hill, Democrats asked Pruitt for the documents as part of his confirmation hearing, but he declined. Instead, he told them to file public records requests themselves.

Now, a judge has ordered the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office to turn over close to 3,000 documents related to Pruitt’s communications with oil, gas and coal groups, according to E&E News.

Pruitt’s office has until Tuesday to release the emails, but his confirmation vote was originally believed to be held on Friday, Feb. 17.

“Scott Pruitt and Senate Republicans have made a mockery of the confirmation process, permitting the nominee to escape scrutiny and hide his deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. What is he hiding in all of these emails? The vote to confirm Pruitt must now be delayed until every senator can see just who Pruitt is and what he will do if permitted to run the EPA,” a statement from the Sierra Club read.