Oklahoma Bar Association Opens Ethics Investigation of EPA Chief Scott Pruitt

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Oklahoma Bar Association Opens Ethics Investigation of EPA Chief Scott Pruitt

WASHINGTON - In response to a formal ethics complaint filed nine days ago by the Center for Biological Diversity and University of Oklahoma law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos, the Oklahoma Bar Association has opened an investigation into whether U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt lied to Congress while under oath.

The investigation will look into possible ethical violations stemming from Pruitt’s misrepresentation to senators of his use of a personal email address — while he was Oklahoma attorney general — for official business and speeches he gave to right-wing organizations against environmental protection.

The bar association has requested a response to the complaint from Pruitt. Following the investigation, the bar association’s Professional Responsibility Commission will decide whether to take disciplinary action against the newly minted EPA chief.

The Center’s and Prof. van de Biezenbos’ complaint asserts that Pruitt violated Oklahoma’s rules of professional conduct when he told Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) during his confirmation hearing that he did not use a personal “me.com” email address for official state business while attorney general of Oklahoma. Records released in the course of an Oklahoma public-records lawsuit show that Pruitt received at least one email message, and possibly more, at a “me.com” email address. Additional records are still being reviewed by Oklahoma courts for possible public release.

“I’m very pleased the Oklahoma Bar Association has agreed to investigate this matter,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center. “Lying to Congress is a serious ethical breach, and it doesn’t help that Pruitt’s use of private emails reflect potential collusion with the very oil and gas industry he’s now supposed to be regulating.”

One released email shows a message from a vice president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association to Pruitt’s me.com address, asking him to use his position as Oklahoma attorney general to help roll back renewable fuel standards that were set under the Obama administration. Other released emails show use of a redacted email address for Pruitt that may be personal, showing correspondence with representatives of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is widely viewed as a right-wing organization that has worked to weaken some of the nation’s most important environmental laws, including laws Pruitt administers at the EPA, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Use of a personal email address for official state business can lead to the loss of government records and to hacking. Federal rules prohibit the use of personal email for official business.

Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works noted in a March 17, 2017 letter to Mr. Pruitt that he failed to mention several public speeches or presentations that he has made related to energy or the environment, including to the Federalist Society.

“As a law professor and a member of the legal profession, I take the ethical standards very seriously,” said Kristen van de Biezenbos, the University of Oklahoma law professor who signed the complaint in her personal capacity. “But such rules are only meaningful when they are fully enforced.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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