One day after hundreds of current and former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees voiced their opposition to the man President Donald Trump wants to run that agency—and just ahead of his Senate confirmation vote—a prominent watchdog group is suing Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for violation of the Open Records Act.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed suit Tuesday in an Oklahoma court, demanding EPA nominee Pruitt release records detailing his communications with energy companies ahead of the as-yet-unscheduled Senate vote, according to a statement. The suit alleges Pruitt has failed to respond to multiple records requests seeking access to more than 3,000 emails with Koch Industries and other coal, oil, and gas corporations, as well as the corporate-funded Republican Attorney General’s Association (RAGA).
Furthermore, the statement reads: "Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. Senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing."
Pruitt's strong ties to the fossil fuel industry—exposed in part by CMD—and hostility toward the agency he's been picked to lead evoked massive opposition from the environmental movement as well as intense scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers, who went as far as to boycott Pruitt's committee vote last week.
"Freedom of information is essential to ensure the integrity of our government," said Brady Henderson, legal director of the ALCU of Oklahoma, which is representing CMD alongside law firm Hall Estill. "When public officials like Scott Pruitt fail to abide by Open Records Act requirements, it interferes with the people's ability to do our job holding government accountable. With Pruitt seeking confirmation to become EPA administrator, these public records are essential for the U.S. Senate to do its job too. Public records belong in public view, not hidden for months or years behind closed doors."
Added Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research, to Reuters: "We are doing this because these emails should be released so that people can properly vet his record before the Senate votes to confirm him."
"Public servants at the EPA spend each day trying to counter corporations' injection of dangerous chemicals into our air, water and homes, but Pruitt refuses to discuss his deep connections to the companies he would oversee and has repeatedly shown contempt for the Senate's responsibility to their constituents to properly vet his nomination," Surgey added in a statement. "Families in Michigan and Pennsylvania grappling with unsafe drinking water, communities from California to Florida dealing with damage to our climate, and parents looking for ways to clean up the air their kids breathe all deserve the facts behind whose interests Pruitt really serves."
Meanwhile, about 300 people, including many EPA employees, rallied Monday across the street from the agency's regional headquarters in downtown Chicago. "Both staff, represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and managers attended the rally, which took place during their lunch breaks," organizers told ThinkProgress.
On the same day, close to 450 former EPA officials—"from regional administrators to engineers, scientists, researchers, and attorneys, 90 percent of whom were long-term career employees, not political appointees," as Slate reports—signed a letter raising "concerns" about Pruitt's qualifications for the agency's top post.
"Pruitt's record and public statements strongly suggest that he does not agree with the underlying principles of our environmental laws," they wrote. "Pruitt has shown no interest in enforcing environmental laws, a critically important function for EPA."
CMD is requesting an emergency hearing "due to the impending Senate vote on Pruitt's nomination." Pruitt passed out of committee last Thursday and his full Senate confirmation vote is likely to come next week.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) voiced their support for the CMD lawsuit:
For years, Republicans have been crowing about emails—Hillary Clinton's, Lisa Jackson's, Gina McCarthy's. Meanwhile, for more than two years, the Center for Media and Democracy has been asking for 3,000 emails between Trump EPA nominee Scott Pruitt and the fossil fuel companies that EPA regulates like Koch Industries, Peabody Coal, and Devon Energy. Senate Democrats, trying to fulfill their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent, have been asking for these emails too. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Republicans aren't outraged by secret emails; instead, they are fast-tracking Pruitt's nomination. Mr. Pruitt shouldn't be rewarded for a cover-up—he should be held responsible for it. Congress and the public deserve to know what Mr. Pruitt is hiding. Until those emails are released, the Senate should not vote on Mr. Pruitt's nomination.