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Pruitt's EPA forges partnerships with climate deniers

Five years ago, Republicans thought it was scandalous that the EPA partnered with outside groups. Do they still feel that way now?
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)
In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla.

About halfway through Barack Obama's presidency, Republicans thought they'd stumbled across an important controversy. The Environmental Protection Agency, evidently, was in routine contact with private non-profit groups that advocate in support of the environment.

Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) were quite aggressive on this in 2013, demanding that the EPA produce detailed records on the agency's relationships with environmental groups.

"It is important for Congress to understand the relationship between EPA and nongovernmental organizations, particularly as it relates to the coordination and influence over public policymaking," the Republicans told the EPA at the time. They added, "[R]eleasing the correspondence between the EPA and these entitles is in the public interest."

It was difficult to take the story seriously -- there was never any evidence to suggest nefarious schemes or plot between the EPA and groups like the Sierra Club -- but the story came to mind overnight after seeing this new report from the Associated Press.

Newly released emails show senior Environmental Protection Agency officials working closely with a conservative group that dismisses climate change to rally like-minded people for public hearings on science and global warming, counter negative news coverage and tout Administrator Scott Pruitt's stewardship of the agency.John Konkus, EPA's deputy associate administrator for public affairs, repeatedly reached out to senior staffers at the Heartland Institute, according to the emails."If you send a list, we will make sure an invitation is sent," Konkus wrote to then-Heartland president Joseph Bast in May 2017, seeking suggestions on scientists and economists the EPA could invite to an annual EPA public hearing on the agency's science standards.Follow-up emails show Konkus and the Heartland Institute mustering scores of potential invitees known for rejecting scientific warnings of man-made climate-change, including from groups like Plants Need CO2, The Right Climate Stuff, and Junk Science.

The emails were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which sued to enforce a Freedom of Information request.

And while the revelations are unsettling, they're not surprising. Donald Trump's team at the EPA is overtly hostile to the agency's goals and all kinds of environmental safeguards, so it stands to reason Scott Pruitt and his lieutenants would forge close ties to climate deniers and others on the far-right who work on environmental issues.

But five years ago, when it was Obama's EPA communicating regularly with environmental advocacy groups, the Republican-led Senate Environment and Public Works Committee considered this highly controversial and worthy of close scrutiny. The panel's GOP leaders expected detailed information, not only on the correspondence between the EPA and outside organizations, but also on what role those groups may have had in shaping policy.

So, any chance that same committee will show a similar interest now?