A day after Scott Pruitt, President Trump's new environmental chief, attempted to ease the concerns of rattled Environmental Protection Agency employees during his first visit to agency headquarters, a batch of thousands of old emails sent between his former office and members of the oil and gas industry were released under court order.
To Pruitt's environmental critics, the 7,564 newly released pages of emails further demonstrate the cozy relationship between fossil fuel interests and Pruitt, who as Oklahoma's attorney general was tasked with enforcing the state's environmental rules and representing the state to federal regulators.
Since 2015, the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit group, has sought to use Oklahoma's open records law to gain access to thousands of emails sent by Pruitt's office during his six-year tenure as the state's top prosecutor. One year earlier, a New York Times investigative report revealed how Pruitt used language provided to him by Devon Energy, a Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company, in letters sent to the EPA.
The emails handed over to CMD on Tuesday — the first of what could be several sets the Oklahoma attorney general's office is compelled by a district court to release — show employees at Devon and other fossil fuel players setting up meetings with Pruitt's office and providing arguments for Pruitt to use when petitioning the EPA.
In testimony and interviews since Trump announced his nomination, Pruitt said that his guiding philosophy as EPA administrator will be federalism — or to allow states to manage their own environmental protections to fit their individual needs.
But even this overarching philosophy may be influenced by industry sources, the newly released emails show.
In 2013, for example, Devon coordinated a meeting between Pruitt and the libertarian group the Federalist Society in order to "assist AGs in addressing federalism issues." Pruitt's chief of staff at the time responded that it and subsequent meetings would be "an amazing resource for the AGs and for industry."
The correspondence also confirms the role Devon played in crafting a letter Pruitt sent to the EPA in 2013 regarding a rule limiting the emissions of methane from oil and gas fracking.
"I sent the letter today," Clayton Eubanks, deputy solicitor general, wrote in May of that year. "Thanks for all your help on this."
"Clayton: I'm glad the Devon team could help," Brent Rockwood, Devon's director of public policy and government affairs, replied.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Devon Energy described its interaction with Pruitt as nothing out of the ordinary.
"Our engagement with Scott Pruitt as Attorney General of Oklahoma is consistent – and proportionate – with our commitment to engage in conversations with policymakers on a broad range of matters that promote jobs, economic growth and a robust domestic energy sector," John Porretto, a Devon spokesperson, said.
"In some cases, we serve as a resource with useful information and expertise for decision-makers," he wrote.
Before Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate on Friday, Democrats in the chamber argued, unsuccessfully, that the vote must be delayed until senators had the chance to review the emails.
"Our Republican friends have a fixation on emails," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said the day before the vote, referring to Republican-led investigations into Hillary Clinton's emails as secretary of state, before adding: "This is the wolf into the lambfold."
The delay was also attacked by Pruitt's critics. "Pruitt had it in his power to release these emails," Nick Surgey, CMD’s research director, told BuzzFeed News. "But he dragged his feet."
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