Whitehouse Keeps Up Opposition to EPA Nominee

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

As White House scandals dominate the headlines, President Donald Trump’s agency nominees continue to cruise through confirmation.

The candidacy of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of Trump’s remaining cabinet appointees with a vote possibly taking place as soon as Feb. 17.

As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt made a career doing the bidding of the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters, such as the Big Poultry industry. He is a climate-change denier, and advocates for expanded coal mining, fracking and extracting natural deposits from public lands. He loathes environmental safeguards, exhibited by his many lawsuits on behalf of polluters and the dismantling of Oklahoma’s Environmental Protection Unit after taking office in 2011.

Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times over regulations and violations imposed on energy companies. His election campaigns received funds from fossil-fuel companies, such as Koch Industries, and agricultural giant Monsanto. A 2014 New York Times expose identified Pruitt’s industry connections and found that Pruitt submitted legislation written by oil giant Devon Energy, based in Oklahoma City.

That story triggered public-information requests by the Center for Media and Democracy for 3,000 e-mails between Pruitt and the fossil-fuel industry and its front groups. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., is drawing attention to the fact that Pruitt’s office has ignored the information requests for two years.

“When they stonewall an open records request for two years, you know they're worried about something. Until those emails are released, the Senate should not vote on Scott Pruitt’s nomination,” Whitehouse wrote in a recent e-mail to supporters.

On Feb. 7, the Center for Media and Democracy, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit that forces Pruitt to turn over the e-mails. On Feb. 11, Pruitt released 411 of the 3,000 e-mails. Their content shows communication and meetings between Pruitt and fossil-fuel companies and their front groups, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Due to the impeding confirmation vote by the full Senate, an Oklahoma judge agreed to an expedited hearing on the e-mail request on Feb. 16.

“Congress and the public deserve to know what Mr. Pruitt is hiding,” Whitehouse wrote in a joint press release with Senators Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “Until those emails are released, the Senate should not vote on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination.”

Whitehouse is a member of the Senate Committee on the Environment & Public Works. The committee has boycotted two meetings on Pruitt's nomination, forcing postponement of votes.

In a recent Time to Wake Up speech, Whitehouse lambasted Pruitt, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Congress for subverting democracy at the expense of Wall Street and the fossil-fuel industry.

“They are more likely to protect the profits of polluters than protect the health of Americans,” Whitehouse said. “This whole scenario is an embarrassment to our country ... there is going to be a lasting stain on our national reputation.”