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Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

'Where Are Scott Pruitt's Emails?' Sierra Club Demands After FOIA Request Turns Up Only One Message Sent by EPA Chief

"The idea that Scott Pruitt sent a single work-related external email during nearly a year leading EPA is absurd on its face."

Julia Conley

The Sierra Club and a government watchdog raised questions over the result of a FOIA request regarding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt's four work-related email accounts, after the information released showed that he had sent just one external email over 10 months as head of the agency.

The Sierra Club, which has fought for more than a year to gain information on Pruitt's activities, issued a statement demanding that the EPA search the administrator's personal email accounts for messages related to his work leading the agency, which has been heavily focused on rolling back environmental safeguards and giving favorable treatment to the fossil fuel industry.

"The idea that Scott Pruitt sent a single work-related external email during nearly a year leading EPA is absurd on its face," said Justine Thompson Cowan, an attorney who has led the Sierra Club's lawsuit against the EPA over the agency's failure to respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner. "That's why the Sierra Club is demanding that EPA search Pruitt's personal email accounts for work-related communications, or certify definitively that he does not use personal email or secretive messaging applications like WhatsApp and Signal to circumvent records retention laws."

As Politico reported, Pruitt's personal email accounts should have already been reviewed by the EPA as part of the FOIA request:

Government officials can legally use private email accounts, but agencies are supposed to search those accounts when fulfilling public records requests.

The only external email turned up by the Sierra Club's FOIA request was sent by Pruitt last September to a consultant, regarding an event organized by the American Council for Capital Formation, a free market think tank. In November he also forwarded an email regarding a speaking engagement request to an email account whose name the EPA redacted in its FOIA documents.

"Americans should know what the EPA is doing, why it's doing it and who's influencing those decisions."            —Melanie Sloan, American Oversight

Pruitt has been under fire for ethical violations for much of his time as administrator, including the secrecy with which he's conducted government business.

The former Oklahoma attorney general refused to release his public schedule, restricted staffers from entering his office, and ordered a $25,000 soundproof phone booth for his office.

While EPA officials have claimed that Pruitt conducts much of his business via phone, watchdog group American Oversight obtained the administrator's phone records and found that the administrator has gone weeks without using his desk or cell phones at the EPA.

Pruitt's apparent refusal to carry out government business using a government email address, which is subject to public records-keeping laws, is cause for more concern over the interests he is serving as head of the EPA.

"The emails, if they exist, could show what these people want and then those emails could be compared to what the EPA does," Melanie Sloan, a senior adviser at the watchdog group American Oversight, told Politico. "Americans should know what the EPA is doing, why it's doing it, and who's influencing those decisions."

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