The court ordered release of more than 7,500 emails on Tuesday evening from former Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, illustrate an office that was in lock-step with some of the state’s and the nation’s largest energy companies and organizations.
The release was the result of an Open Records Request lawsuit after the Wisconsin based, Liberal-leaning non-profit The Center for Media and Democracy sued for emails from more than two-years ago.
A ruling issued last week by an Oklahoma City judge said Pruitt’s office abjectly failed to follow Oklahoma’s Open Records Act.
In one email exchange in 2013 with Devon Energy, Pruitt's office is given edits to a letter intended to fight a proposed EPA rule.
“Here you go,’ wrote former Devon spokesperson Bill Whitsitt in 2013. “Please note that you could use just the red changes, or both red and blue (the latter being some further improvements from one of our experts) or none. Hope this helps. Thanks for all your work on this!”
Another email from Devon Energy thanked Pruitt again after saying the company’s legal team made recommendations for an official letter.
“Thanks for putting the AG letter into action, and I think that this letter will make a stronger statement and a real difference,” the email sent in 2013 by the company’s Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs, Brent Rockwood said.
A similar correspondence from a lobbyist for major utility companies suggested Pruitt's office "cut and paste" their talking points when attempting to convince other attorney generals to follow Pruitt's lead.
The emails mirror a 2014 New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning report which discovered Pruitt took a letter from Devon Energy and copied it to Oklahoma letter head.
While some of the meetings between staff and industry members were held in secret, some suggestions appear to have been copied to state letter head, but it's unclear and unlikely that any laws were broken.
Pruitt’s coziness with the energy sector was called into question by critics who claimed he would not act in the best interest of the environment as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in President Donald Trump’s administration.
Neither the EPA nor the Oklahoma Attorney General's office returned a request for a comment. But Devon Energy did say in a statement, "We have a clear obligation to our shareholders and others to be involved in these discussions...It is important that we give full consideration to policymaker requests for information and expertise on industry issues. It would be indefensible for us to not be engaged in these important issues.”
Pruitt’s confirmation as EPA Administrator was highly contentious. His committee hearings included two boycotted votes by Senate Democrats and allegations he mislead the committee. Democrats in the Senate urged Pruitt’s confirmation be held off until the emails were released, but Republicans forced the vote. Pruitt was confirmed 52-46.
Ethics experts say while the emails do show a pattern of communication between Pruitt and energy groups, it doesn’t necessarily mean there was an ethical breech if Pruitt’s beliefs aligned with the company’s independently.
“It's hard to say that they’re doing anything wrong,” Dean Emeritus of Oklahoma City University Law School Lawrence Hellman said. “The check on those kinds of judgments, in my view, are political.”
Hellman added any ethical quagmires that may arise during Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA could arise from any ongoing suits he filed against the EPA while Attorney General.
Pruitt filed more than a dozen suits attempting to block EPA regulations. Several are still pending. In his marathon confirmation hearing, he said he would recuse himself from those cases should the EPA Ethics Counsel advise him to do so.
CMD said in a release it plans to fight for the release or reverse redaction of several disputed emails that were not released this week.