Whitehouse Lends Support to EPA Chief Investigation

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

As a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has seen plenty of acts of deception by Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Those actions include using a private e-mail account for state business and being untruthful during his confirmation hearings.

Pruitt unnerved Whitehouse and environmentalists well before he became administrator of the EPA. As Oklahoma attorney general, he sued the federal agency over the Clean Power Plan and other regulations the he and other attorneys general deemed unfair to the fossil-fuel industry.

As head of the EPA, Pruitt has continued his anti-environment behavior. He has tried and succeeded in some instances to eliminate environmental protections and regulations, such as the ban against dumping mining waste into waterways and the requirement that fossil-fuel companies report their methane emissions from fracking.

Whitehouse is now part of a complaint filed against Pruitt for violating the Oklahoma Bar Association's standards of professional conduct. The complaint was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Kristen van de Biezenbos, a professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Whitehouse recently submitted a letter to the Oklahoma Bar Association with a lengthy list of Pruitt’s violations of conduct.

“I have a front-row seat for Mr. Pruitt’s misleading testimony and his ongoing failure to respond completely and truthfully to committee requests for him to set the record straight,” Whitehouse wrote.

According to Whitehouse, the list of misdeeds includes three misstatements by Pruitt regarding the use of a private e-mail account; evidence that Pruitt used private e-mail accounts for business purposes as far back as 2013; evidence of e-mail exchanges with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Devon Energy. Whitehouse also claims that Pruitt stonewalled the Senate committee in its efforts to clarify misstatements and conflicts of interest.

“This conduct is unbecoming of an attorney who is also a public official and who, under law, is required to testify truthful to Congress,” Whitehouse wrote in his July 18 letter.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based legal environmental advocacy group, filed the complaint with the Oklahoma Bar Association in March. An investigation is underway by a special counsel within the bar association. It will make recommendations to a tribunal, which can conduct its own investigation and even subpoena Pruitt to testify. It may ultimately choose to reprimand Pruitt or suspend or revoke his license to practice law in Oklahoma.

Amy Atwood, senior attorney with Center for Biological Diversity, said her organization took action to prevent further harm to the environment and threatened species by Pruitt and President Trump.

“We have a problem with (Pruitt’s) misrepresentation of the truth and we have problem with the interests that he appears to be beholden to,” Atwood said.