Scott Pruitt, now the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, often emailed with energy companies during his time as Oklahoma attorney general, taking their advice on how to push back against federal environmental regulations, according to emails released Wednesday.
Pruitt has already been confirmed, regardless of the emails, which Senate Democrats sought prior to voting on his nomination last week. But close ties to companies he is now charged with regulating may validate complaints by Democrats about Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest.
The emails come after Pruitt’s first speech as administrator Tuesday focused on the EPA’s limitations rather than its regulations, saying he hopes to be “pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment.”
The liberal nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy published a batch of emails from Pruitt’s old office following a court order for their release. The Senate voted in favor of Pruitt’s confirmation 52-46 last week, largely on party lines, a day after an Oklahoma judge ordered the attorney general’s office to release the emails but before they were made public.
Pruitt won confirmation in part through the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who initially wanted to delay a vote to wait for the emails, but ultimately backed Pruitt even without the documents. A spokesman for Manchin did not respond to a request for comment. EPA officials also did not comment.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) who opposed Pruitt’s confirmation, said in a statement the emails “show an elected official cultivating a cozy relationship with regulated industries as he helped them through his official work.”
About 7,000 pages of emails show Pruitt’s office working closely with energy companies and political groups on his official stance on federal regulations.
Some of the emails overlap with a 2014 New York Times report that Pruitt copied and pasted a letter, written by Devon Energy, onto office stationery, accusing federal regulators of overestimating pollution from natural gas systems in his state.
In one email, William Whitsitt, a senior official at Devon Energy, suggests planning a statement from state attorneys general threatening a lawsuit over EPA regulations on hydraulic fracturing.
“Let’s think about some input to EPA and (the Office of Management and Budget) that might warn them that AGs from producing states will be ready to engage,” Whitsitt wrote in January 2013.
In another email exchange, Whitsitt asked for input to the OMB in order to direct the Bureau of Land Management “to completely do away with the present thrust” of fracking regulations.
In response, P. Clayton Eubanks, deputy solicitor general for Pruitt’s office, promised to try to get a call set up with OMB.
In May 2013, Eubanks emailed Whitsitt a letter that Pruitt and other attorneys general planned to send to the EPA with their intent to sue over methane regulations. “Any suggestions?” Eubanks asked.
Pruitt’s office also had ties to other groups in Oklahoma, such as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think-tank.
Aaron Cooper, the attorney general’s director of public affairs, emailed the group a clip of Pruitt talking about the Affordable Care Act on television and his upcoming op-ed on the topic. (Pruitt sued the Obama administration over aspects of the health care law.)
“Perhaps OCPA will consider it for a email blast or something,” Cooper wrote in November 2013.
“This is awesome sir! Please tell the AG that we are extremely grateful,” a group official said in reply.