In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP

New emails shed light on EPA chief’s industry ties

Donald Trump chose so many top administration officials who were hostile to their agencies’ core mission that the nominations almost seemed sarcastic. The president chose Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education despite her opposition to public schools; he chose Andy Puzder to lead the Department of Labor despite his opposition to workers; and Trump chose Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA despite his overt hostility towards environmental safeguards.

Pruitt, who clashed with the EPA during his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, spoke to the agency’s employees yesterday, and by some measures, the new administrator’s remarks were not well received.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 2/17/17, 9:31 PM ET

Judge's e-mail order could move Pruitt from frying pan to fire

Rachel Maddow reports on the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA despite the best efforts of environmentalists, but notes that in just a few days, thousands of pages of Pruitt e-mails will be release on a judge’s order that could complicate…
Rachel Maddow reports on the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA despite the best efforts of environmentalists, but notes that in just a few days, thousands of pages of Pruitt e-mails will be release on a judge’s order that could complicate…
But while Pruitt settles into his new office, we’re not yet done scrutinizing the work he did before he reached the EPA. The New York Times reported this morning:
During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.
If you missed Rachel’s coverage of this last week, it’s a doozy of a story. Pruitt, in effect, was illegally hiding official emails that documented his cooperation with the oil and gas industries – the industries he’ll ostensibly help oversee as the head of the EPA. The Center for Media and Democracy filed suit to obtain the emails Pruitt wanted to hide, and last week, a judge ordered their release.

This, of course, unfolded before the Senate confirmation vote, which led Democrats to make an obvious request: members should wait a few days to review the documents before deciding whether to give Pruitt the job. Republican leaders refused – saying it made more sense to vote on the nomination with less information about Pruitt’s professional background, instead of more.

Asked why he couldn’t wait for senators to have a more complete picture, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), doing his best imitation of Bartleby the Scrivener, said, “Because I choose not to.”

But Senate Republicans rushing Pruitt through the confirmation process and into the EPA didn’t make the underlying controversy go away. The vote simply punted the controversy into this week, putting the mess on Pruitt’s desk during his first week on the job.

And while it’ll take a while to review this first batch of documents, the early takeaway was predictable: as Oklahoma’s A.G., Pruitt had a hand-in-glove alliance with the industries he’s now supposed to regulate, while combating the environmental agency he’s now expected to lead.
“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said. […]

As attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt took part in 14 lawsuits against major E.P.A. environmental rules, often in coordination with energy companies such as Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas producer, and American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility. The emails show that his office corresponded with those companies in efforts to weaken federal environmental regulations – the same rules he will now oversee.
A total of 52 senators voted to put Pruitt in charge of the EPA anyway. Given a choice to delay the vote a week until after members could review these emails, Senate Republicans refused.

A Center for Media and Democracy spokesperson said in a written statement, “The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners, and other events.”

Note, this isn’t the end of the story: the next round of emails is scheduled to be released on Monday.