Pruitt Speaks to Staff; Emails Shall Be Released

UPDATE Wednesday 8 a.m.: The Center for Media and Democracy has released approximately half of the requested emails, and posted them here.

Eleven minutes. That’s how long Scott Pruitt, the new Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, spoke to his staff today from the Rachel Carson Green Room. The presentation was open to in-person media as well as anyone who called in or watched online. Superficially, it seemed of little consequence: he announced no plans to roll back this or that regulation; he made no specific statements of intent or direct statements of purpose.

But it was not, as some have reported, a conciliatory speech. The former Oklahoma attorney general was clear about his priorities, in his way. “Process matters,” he said, “and we should respect that and focus on that, and try to avoid – not try to avoid, but do avoid — abuses that occur sometimes.” Among those abuses to avoid: “Regulation through litigation.”

To be clear, “regulation through litigation” refers to citizen lawsuits filed when the EPA fails to uphold the law. The consent decrees they produce — agreements and timelines for a resolution — have led to some landmark remediation projects, such as the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay and the improvements in ocean water quality along the California coast. States have also sued EPA to get the agency to add new pollutants to its official list: In Massachusetts v. EPA, states sued to force the agency to regulate carbon dioxide as a threat to human health and safety.

Pruitt has made a career out of fighting such lawsuits. He has also sued the EPA himself—to weaken environmental laws.

“We need to be open and transparent and objective in how we do rulemaking and make sure that we follow the letter of the law as we do so. That will send a great message,” he added, “to those who are regulated” — namely, the polluting industries.

Pruitt made no mention of public health in his speech—no references to the importance of clean air or clean water, no proclamations about protecting citizens from the assaults of industry. He did, however, stress the importance of the EPA “making an informed decision on how [regulations will] impact those in the marketplace.”

He also quoted John Muir’s words about open space as “places to play in and pray in,” words perhaps more appropriate for an incoming Interior Secretary. And he shared his favorite books, among them Inventing Freedom: How the English Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, by Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative whom the Financial Times called “the brains behind Brexit.”

Pruitt’s call for openness and transparency comes on the day that the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office was ordered to turn over some 3,000 pieces of correspondence between Pruitt and industry representatives, in response to a public records request from the Center for Media and Democracy. My colleague Molly Peterson has confirmed with the AG’s office and the CMD that those emails are on their way, either to CMD or to a judge for review.

“As soon as we receive the documents, we will take a close look and make them available to the public as soon as possible,” said CMD’s research director, Nick Surgey, in a statement. “Americans deserve to know what Pruitt has worked so hard to conceal throughout his confirmation process.”

Incoming EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during his Senate hearing, January 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

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