Senate Democrats are demanding to know what's behind Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head nominee Scott Pruitt's ties to the reclusive conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The lawmakers, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, wrote a letter (pdf) to Pruitt on Tuesday demanding that he provide "a full disclosure" of his relationship with the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), a right-leaning public policy organization that receives funding from Freedom Partners—a group that funds initiatives supported by the Kochs, who have deep investments in fossil fuels.
Pruitt's association with the RLDF is one of several "troubling" ties to the energy industry, the letter states. The fund, which provides a forum for Republican attorneys general to engage on state-level policy, has been known to oppose EPA regulations.
"Before the Senate votes to confirm you to run EPA, it is important that you provide a full disclosure of your relationship with the energy industry so we can determine how that will influence your ability to run the agency," the letter states.
Pruitt currently serves as state attorney general in Oklahoma, which has been the site of increased earthquakes linked to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. His credentials have previously been called into question by environmental groups, who have called him a "puppet" of the fossil fuel industry and said naming him to head the EPA was like "putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires."
A New York Times investigation in 2014 also found that a letter attributed to Pruitt lambasting EPA methane regulations had actually been penned by oil and gas producer Devon Energy.
The Democrats' letter states:
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.
Before the Senate votes on his confirmation, the letter continues, Pruitt should disclose his relationship with the RLDF; a list of all RLDF donors; what financial support Pruitt has requested and received through the fund; details of RLDF expenditures; all communications between Pruitt and RLDF officials; and a list of all legislation and regulations the fund has taken a position on and all actions that Pruitt has taken in response.
"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.
It was signed by Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats.