A recap of Scott Pruitt's first week at the EPA - and the news isn't good

Martha Roberts

Just days after senators rushed through Scott Pruitt’s confirmation as the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – without key information on his record – concerns are growing over how Pruitt’s tenure will affect the critical work the agency does to protect public health and our environment.

On his very first week on the job, the new EPA administrator already questioned some of the agency’s key responsibilities, we learned more about the lack of transparency during EPA’s recent transition, and Pruitt’s problematic email records remained mired in a court fight.

With the EPA now facing potentially draconian budget cuts, here’s a recap of Pruitt’s troubling first week on the job.

Making the EPA go away? Not a funny joke.

Just this weekend, Pruitt was caught on video laughing at a suggestion that some would “kind of hope that Administrator Pruitt will just sort of make the EPA go away.”

Remarkably, the press release meant to herald Pruitt’s first day instead served up a litany of false insinuations against EPA from a long list of major industries – from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity to the National Association of Manufacturers.

And in his very first interview as EPA administrator, Pruitt cast doubt on his agency’s ability to address climate change, our nation’s foremost environmental threat, despite three Supreme Court opinions underscoring the agency’s responsibility to address climate pollution.

These are disturbing examples of the lack of concern he’s shown for the EPA’s vital role in protecting America’s public health and welfare.

A secret “action plan” for EPA

According to confirmed reports, the EPA transition team’s list of nine “landing team” members did not reflect a broader group of team members who guided development of an “action plan” for EPA.

The names of these mystery people – and the final action plan – have not been shared with the public. Without this information, it’s impossible to know what additional conflicts of interest we should be concerned about as Pruitt’s tenure begins.

The biggest story of the week, however, began long before Pruitt set his foot in Washington.

Emails show his cozy relationship with industry

During Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma’s top lawyer, his team already had a known history of cutting and pasting industry requests and sending them in to federal officials on official letterhead.

Last week, we learned more. Additional records released – under court order, after an “abject failure” to respond to a two-year-old open records request from the Center for Media and Democracy – further underscore Pruitt’s troubling pattern of transactional relationships.

The emails show, among other things, that the lobbying group American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers sent information to Pruitt’s personal email about opposition to the Renewable Fuels Standard and ozone limits. The group provided detailed substantive input about the state weighing in on the standards, advising that “this argument is more credible coming from a State.”

They also exposed in greater detail Pruitt’s close ties with Devon Energy, a large oil and gas company that provided line edits on additional Oklahoma Attorney General letters to federal officials, pushing back against federal safeguards addressing oil and gas pollution.

What other emails are out there?

We also learned last week that the Oklahoma attorney general’s office withheld some emails from this release as privileged; the judge will review those emails in chambers to make sure she agrees – if not, more will be released.

Moreover, Pruitt’s old office is under court order to respond to five additional open records requests by March 3, after stonewalling these requests for years in some cases.

Remarkably, the office has appealed to the Supreme Court to block this order. After years of delay, they claim that they are still unable to fulfill these requests.

A lot to take in from a single week, in other words, and we have no faith the pace of disruption will slow.

Scott Pruitt’s nomination was the first time Environmental Defense Fund has gone on the record to oppose such an appointment in our 50-year history. What we’ve seen so far only reinforces that we must stay vigilant.

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