Clear the Smog

EPA nominee Scott Pruitt is fighting transparency, withholding thousands of emails that he doesn't want us to see before his confirmation vote.

Scott Pruitt: Clear the Smog

Update: On Thursday, the Oklahoma County Court found Trump EPA nominee Scott Pruitt in violation of the state’s Open Records Act. The Center for Media and Democracy filed a lawsuit against Pruitt for improperly withholding public records and the court ordered his office to release thousands of emails by Tuesday, February 21. …However, on Friday, Senators voted to approve Pruitt by a vote of 52-46. Two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, voted for him, while one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against him.

Scott Pruitt is an alarming choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, yet the Republican majority in the Senate is pushing to confirm him later this week.

He’s a living, breathing, walking conflict of interest.

This is an agency, remember, that was created to protect our health, our children’s health and our environment from toxic products and pollution. President Richard Nixon, a Republican president, signed it into law.

Pruitt, currently the attorney general of Oklahoma, is on the side of the polluters. He shut down his state’s own environmental enforcement unit. He joined polluters at least 14 times to sue the EPA in order to weaken laws.

He’s a living, breathing, walking conflict of interest. The Intercept’s Sharon Lerner reported on his conflicts earlier this week. Some 15 companies with EPA enforcement actions against them in recent years have either donated directly to Pruitt, to his super PAC or to the Association of Attorneys General when he led it. Those companies include Koch Industries, Murray Energy, Peabody Coal and Monsanto.

Pruitt’s conflicts were so brazen that at the Senate hearing Democrats boycotted the vote to confirm him. Republicans, on whom polluters spend lavishly, pushed his nomination out of committee and onto the Senate floor, where it is to be voted on possibly as soon as Friday afternoon.

More evidence has surfaced that will show just where Pruitt’s loyalties lies: 3,000 emails between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies that could potentially reveal even more cozy ties with the energy industry. Some have been released already, like the letter to the EPA written by lawyers for one energy company which Pruitt then sent with his name on it to dispute the EPA’s methods for estimating methane emissions.

But the public interest group Center for Media and Democracy says Pruitt is withholding many more documents. For more than two years, the center has asked for these emails to be released. They are supposed to be public under Oklahoma’s open records rules. During the confirmation hearing, senators also asked for their release, but Pruitt told them to file a Freedom of Information Act request — basically to shut up and get in line.

Last week, the Center for Media and Democracy sued Pruitt for release of those emails and to make sure none of them were destroyed. By Friday the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office had given them a fraction of their request, so the group will be back in an Oklahoma courtroom this Thursday demanding all the email be released. Until they are, Senate Democrats are asking for a delay in voting on his confirmation.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — a friend of polluters throughout his career in politics — insists on proceeding with the vote. Senators are being asked to vote on Pruitt — with blindfolds on.

It is not partisan to demand that members of Congress do their job with their eyes open and with public records in public view.

It makes no sense. Lead in water harms children of Republicans and Democrats equally. Party affiliation provides no protection against cancer causing chemicals. Children who suffer from asthma aren’t asked how their parents voted in the last election. And when Oklahoma experiences an increasing frequency of earthquakes, with wastewater disposal from oil and gas operations a suspected culprit, the ground shakes beneath conservatives and liberals alike.

Yet Republicans would put in charge of the agency charged with protecting everyone’s health a man beholden to the corporations and plutocrats who have given generously for the privilege of polluting the air, water and soil on which all of us depend.

It is not partisan to demand that members of Congress do their job with their eyes open and with public records in public view. A vote on Scott Pruitt’s confirmation should not be held until the full Senate has been able to study the documents that he is trying desperately to keep hidden.

Watch Bill’s essay on Scott Pruitt:

Bill Moyers

For more than half a century, Bill Moyers has been listening to America as a journalist, writer and producer. You can explore his body of work on the Bill Moyers Timeline.

Gail Ablow


Gail Ablow is a producer for Moyers & Company and a Carnegie Visiting Media Fellow, Democracy.