Pruitt Emails Revive Concerns Over His Energy Industry Friends

WASHINGTON (CN) – A trove of newly released emails from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during his tenure as Oklahoma attorney general have revived concerns about the close ties he cultivated with the energy industry while in state office.

The thousands of emails posted online Wednesday by the Center for Media and Democracy are the result of a year-long open records dispute between the Wisconsin-based liberal watchdog and the Oklahoma attorney general’s office.

The batch of emails, which the office handed over to the Center for Media and Democracy under a court order on Tuesday night, do not necessarily reveal anything new about Pruitt’s relationship with the energy industry, but provide more detail to The New York Times report that made his ties to Devon Energy Corporation national news.

That report, published in 2014 by the Times’ Eric Lipton, found that Pruitt’s office simply added its letterhead to a letter drafted by Devon Energy and sent it to the EPA complaining the agency was overestimating pollution coming from gas wells companies like Devon were digging. Pruitt, whom the Senate confirmed as head of the EPA last week, added only 37 words to the letter Devon drafted, the New York Times found.

Pruitt’s office did not return a voicemail left Thursday afternoon requesting comment on the newly released emails.

In a 2013 email included in the batch released Wednesday William Whitsitt, executive vice president of public affairs for Devon, passed along suggested edits to another letter Pruitt sent to the EPA expressing concerns about the agency’s dealings with several northeastern states that had threatened to sue the agency over its decision not to take over regulation of oil and gas production.

Some of the edits were highlighted in red, while others in blue were “further improvements from one of our experts,” Whitsitt wrote in the email. He encouraged Pruitt’s office to use any combination of edits to the letter.

Later, after Pruitt’s office passed along an article about the letter via email, a lobbyist at Devon chimed in to thank the attorney general’s office for taking an interest in the issue.

“I’m glad the Devon team could help, and thanks for all your work on this,” Brent Rockwood, director of public policy and government affairs at Devon Energy wrote to a top aide at the Oklahoma attorney general’s office.

There are several other instances contained in the emails of Whitsitt and others at Devon passing along tips and suggested talking points for Pruitt to consider.

The emails also show rigorous planning for a meeting between a top executive at Devon, Pruitt and Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. Other members of Pruitt’s staff also seem to have close ties to the company based on the emails released this week.

One instance is a June 2013 meeting at Cheever’s Cafe, a restaurant in Oklahoma City, arranged over a series of emails between Pruitt’s Chief of Staff Melissa Houston and Allen Wright, vice president of public and government affairs for Devon.

“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,” Nick Surgey, research director for the Center for Media and Democracy said in a statement. “And our work doesn’t stop here – we will keep fighting until all of the public records involving Pruitt’s dealings with energy corporations are released – both those for which his office is now asserting some sort of privilege against public disclosure and the documents relevant to our eight other Open Records Act requests.”