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EPA Ethics Chief Calls for Probes of Pruitt as Emails Show "Open-Door Policy" With Industry Lobbyists

"As these emails show, when lobbyists ask top EPA officials to jump, the answer is often 'how high.'"

 EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

 EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt enters the hearing room prior to his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee during a hearing on the 2019 Fiscal Year EPA budget at the Capitol on April 26, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

As the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) polluter-friendly deregulatory agenda continues under the Trump administration, emails obtained by the Washington Post illustrate the cozy relationships between industry lobbyists and aides to scandal-ridden agency head Scott Pruitt, who is facing more than a dozen federal inquiries.

"Scott Pruitt is at EPA only to serve the interests of polluting industries.'"
—John Walke, NRDC

"The communication between the lobbyists and one of Pruitt's top policy aides—detailed in emails the agency provided to Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Thomas R. Carper (Del.)—open a window on the often close relationship between the EPA's political appointees and those they regulate," the Post reports.

"Littered among tens of thousands of emails that have surfaced in recent weeks, largely through a public records lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, are dozens of requests for regulatory relief by industry players," the newspaper notes. "Many have been granted."

In April 2017, for example, a golf industry representative sent a message to a then-associate EPA administrator that read in part: "Our guys walked out of that meeting amazed at the marked difference between our meeting today and the reception at EPA in years [past]. Please holler if we can ever help."

Two days later, the World Golf Association chief executive sent the same EPA staffer a thank you message regarding the meeting, and wrote, "We appreicate your interest in both the general overview of the golf industry, along with our specific interest in repeal of the Clean Water Rule and subsequent development of a new Rule." Igniting alarm among environmentalists, the EPA announced in late January that it was suspending the rule to create a new one.

While EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told the Post the lobbying groups "were dealing with the costly consequences of President Obama's policies that expanded federal overreach while doing little for the environment," Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the watchdog Campaign Legal Center observed that with Pruitt at the helm of the agency, there seems to be an "open-door policy towards the industries they are supposed to be regulating."

"As these emails show, when lobbyists ask top EPA officials to jump, the answer is often 'how high,'" Fischer said.

Even though the emails also show some efforts by Pruitt's aides to contact environmental groups, such as John Walke, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Walke told the newspaper that "Scott Pruitt is at EPA only to serve the interests of polluting industries," and "a few token meetings with environmental groups cannot hide his destructive agenda."

Meanwhile, citing a letter obtained by the New York Times via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Eric Lipton reported on Saturday that the EPA's chief ethics officer Kevin S. Minoli, once a defender of Pruitt, is calling for independent investigations into whether the administrator has violated federal ethics rules. Lipton also published a series of letters, obtained through the Sierra Club lawsuit, that Pruitt wrote to oil and gas executives shortly after he started at the EPA.

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