Donald Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, is facing new scrutiny over his ties to fossil fuel companies and his role in ongoing litigation against the very agency he's been chosen to lead.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works announced Thursday that Pruitt's confirmation hearing would take place next week, on January 18. Also Thursday, Senate Democrats on that committee sent letters to the independent Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and the EPA's ethics official seeking more information about Pruitt's conflicts of interest.
Their letter to the OGE charges that "[d]uring his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has blurred the distinction between official and political actions, often at the behest of corporations he will regulate if confirmed to lead the EPA."
The Democrats cite reporting based on Freedom of Information Act requests that "illustrate[s] how Mr. Pruitt and his staff have worked closely with fossil fuel lobbyists to craft his office's official positions." Specifically, they point to Pruitt's role as chairman of the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA), which "has received nearly $4 million from fossil fuel-related entities, many of which are either companies regulated by EPA or industry trade associations."
"Did Mr. Pruitt provide OGE any information about his positions with RAGA, any role he played soliciting money for RAGA, what resulted from those solicitations, or any promises made or actions taken by him or RAGA in exchange for donations made to it?" the senators ask.
The letter to EPA ethics official Kevin Minoli, meanwhile, focuses on potential "legal conflicts of interest arising from his representation of the state of Oklahoma in litigation against the EPA."
As Common Dreams and others have reported, Pruitt spent his time as Oklahoma attorney general launching multiple legal attacks against the EPA and its efforts to protect the environment and public health. Now, the Democrats on the Environment and Public Works committee want to know how the EPA will ensure that Pruitt is recused from involvement in those cases.
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The ethics agreement entered into by former EPA administrator Carol Browner included a clear and permanent recusal of her participation in any EPA matter in which the state of Florida was involved as a party... Our understanding of Mr. Pruitt's ethics agreement is that he has made no such unequivocal pledge. Why has EPA concluded that a more lenient arrangement for Mr. Pruitt's conflicts is appropriate?
Additionally, they point to Pruitt's shadowy association with the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), a right-leaning public policy organization that receives funding from Freedom Partners—a Koch Brothers super PAC—and has passed "hundreds of thousands of dollars" back and forth with RAGA. "Mr. Pruitt has agreed not to participate in any particular matter involving the RLDF without prior authorization," the senators write. "RLDF's activities and donors are largely secret. Without more extensive disclosures about RLDF and Mr. Pruitt's role in in, how will you determine whether a particular matter involves the RLDF?"
The senators are not alone in raising concerns about Pruitt's nomination. On Thursday, the League of Conservation Voters "departed from [its] standard procedure" in sending a letter to senators warning that their vote on Pruitt's confirmation would be scored on the group's annual environmental scorecard.
"Given Scott Pruitt's radical record and the far-reaching damage he could do at the helm of the EPA, this is not the time for standard protocol," wrote LCV president Gene Karpinski.
"The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and the environment—our air, water, and land," he continued. "Unfortunately, Scott Pruitt's record is completely antithetical to this vitally important mission. Not only does he deny the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by human activity, as Oklahoma attorney general he has sued the EPA on numerous occasions to block efforts to cut carbon pollution and weaken safeguards for our air and water."
And members of the Moms Clean Air Force converged on Capitol Hill this week to add their voices to the mix. Pruitt "has been against every single clean air protection we have gained," the group wrote on Twitter on Friday, following two days of meeting with lawmakers urging them to vote against the nominee. "Bad choice for our families."
— Moms Clean Air Force (@CleanAirMoms) January 13, 2017