Uproar Over Pruitt’s Energy Ties Brings EPA to Court

MANHATTAN (CN) – Plagued by questions about its leader’s documented ties to the energy industry, the Environmental Protection Agency faces a federal complaint charging it with having missed repeated deadlines to turn over records about Scott Pruitt.

Before he was tapped to lead the EPA under President Donald Trump, Pruitt served as the attorney general in the oil-rich of Oklahoma.

The Natural Resources Defense Council notes in a May 11 complaint that questions about Pruitt’s impartiality remain unanswered, and that it filed several simple document requests with the EPA to determine whether its new administrator is complying “with ethical rules and whether he is favoring stakeholders that share his ideology concerning regulator matters.”

“We should all expect the EPA administrator to protect public health, and not work to fulfill his pro-polluter agenda from his days in Oklahoma,” NRDC attorney Jon Devine said in a statement about the complaint.

Filed with a federal judge in Manhattan, the complaint notes that the deadlines for the EPA to respond have lapsed in four cases where the group filed requests about Pruitt under the Freedom of Information Act.

The first of these requests has been pending since Feb. 22. This request concerns a press release the agency issued a week earlier about Pruitt’s Senate confirmation.

On March 9, the council submitted another FOIA request for records concerning Pruitt’s involvement, if any, in two pleadings filed by EPA in ongoing litigation involving Oklahoma over the Clean Water Rule.

The NRDC filed two more requests with the EPA last month. On April 3, it asked for the memo or memos referenced by Pruitt during a radio interview and describing the agency’s settlement and consent decree policies, as well as documents and communications related to the memo and its subject.

On April 10, the NRDC sought copies of any records illustrating Pruitt’s participation in, recusal from or receipt of an ethics waiver to participate in litigation — or other particular matters involving specific parties — in which the state of Oklahoma is a party, and names of staff who have participated in such cases.

Represented by in-house counsel Catherine Rahm, the council wants the EPA to release all responsive, nonexempt records promptly and at no cost.

Representatives for the EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

In a February 2017 article titled “Why We Need the EPA,” the NRDC’s Brian Palmer described the danger of seeing environmental deregulation through a rosy lens.

“It’s easy to remember the historic moments, but the day-to-day problems fade,” Palmer wrote. “The America that existed in the 1960s, in the years before the EPA’s founding, was dirty, dark, and dangerous. The EPA saved us. Let’s return the favor now.”

President Trump’s administration instituted a media blackout at the EPA on Jan. 24, as the agency moved to delay implementation of at least 30 environmental rules finalized in the closing months of Barrack Obama’s presidency.

The Trump administration said Monday it will not reappoint half the expert members of a board that advises the Environmental Protection Agency on the integrity of its science.

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