Oklahoma officials will head to the state supreme court Tuesday in an effort to keep secret more of EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s emails — and the issue quickly has become a rallying point and fundraising tool for environmentalists.
Mr. Pruitt, Oklahoma’s former attorney general and the newly installed head of the EPA, has become the top target for environmentalists, who argue that he is too closely tied to the oil and gas industry. At the heart of that argument are tens of thousands of pages of emails from Mr. Pruitt’s time as attorney general in Oklahoma. Documents that have been released show his office was in near constant contact with leading energy companies, and the two sides worked in concert in the fight against Obama-era environmental regulations.
With additional emails from Mr. Pruitt’s office now the subject of a high-stakes court case in Oklahoma, environmental activists have seized on the issue to discredit the Trump administration and to bring more money into their coffers.
The League of Conservation Voters last week sent an email using the Pruitt emails and President Trump’s plans to roll back his predecessor’s climate change agenda as fundraising pitches.
Mr. Trump is expected to begin unwinding some of his predecessor’s most consequential environmental regulations as soon as this week.
“With the Pruitt email revelations and the expected Trump executive orders targeting climate and water protections, we have a hell of a fight on our hands. Can we count on you?” the group’s president, Gene Karpinski, said in the email.
Following a judge’s order, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office last week turned over more than 7,000 pages of emails to the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group that filed open-records requests to get the materials.
While the messages did not contain any revelations that could sink Mr. Pruitt’s future as EPA administrator, they did show that his office worked hand in hand with Oklahoma’s Devon Energy and other oil and gas sector groups.
In at least one instance, Mr. Pruitt signed his name to a letter — protesting Obama administration rules on fracking — written largely by Devon Energy officials and then sent the letter to the EPA. He later defended the move by saying it was his duty to work on behalf of the industries in his state.
Critics believe there could be evidence of additional collusion within the next batch of emails, but the Oklahoma attorney general’s office is blocking their release. Oklahoma officials Thursday night filed an appeal and a motion for an emergency stay with the state's supreme court.
A court date is scheduled for Tuesday.
“This maneuver is just more stonewalling by Team Pruitt to prevent the American people from seeing public records of national interest that should have been turned over prior to Pruitt’s confirmation as head of the EPA,” said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “Pruitt’s office had many months to provide his emails with corporate polluters but is now complaining they don’t have enough time.”
In its court filing, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office argues that it is impractical and unfair to prioritize the Pruitt emails over other open-records requests that the state is sorting through.
“Because the challenged injunction presents a clear violation of defendant’s due process rights, is an abuse of discretion, and imposes highly onerous burdens on defendant, this court should stay the order of the court below until this appeal can be fully litigated on the merits,” the attorney general’s litigation division said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Pruitt told the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend that the Obama administration wrongly pushed the EPA to focus more on climate change rather than clean air and water. He said the Trump administration will begin rolling back much of the climate change agenda “in a very aggressive way.”
“Next week, you may be hearing about some of those,” he said.
Mr. Trump has vowed to undo the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule, which gave the agency great authority over virtually all bodies of water across the country. An executive action to begin reversing that rule could come this week.