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The Pruitt Emails: E.P.A. Chief Was Arm in Arm With Industry

Scott Pruitt testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill, January 18, 2017 in Washington.
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Scott Pruitt testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill, January 18, 2017 in Washington.

During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.

"Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama's EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states," said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. "You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!" the note said.

Mr. Pruitt has been among the most contentious of President Trump's cabinet nominees. Environmental groups, Democrats in Congress and even current E.P.A. employees have protested his ties to energy companies, his efforts to block and weaken major environmental rules, and his skepticism of the central mission of the federal agency he now leads.

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An Oklahoma judge ordered the release of the emails in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group. Many of the emails are copies of documents previously provided in 2014 to The New York Times, which examined Mr. Pruitt's interaction with energy industry players that his office also helps regulate.

The companies provided him draft letters to send to federal regulators in an attempt to block federal regulations intended to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas wells, ozone air pollution, and chemicals used in fracking, the email correspondence shows.

They held secret meetings to discuss more comprehensive ways to combat the Obama administration's environmental agenda, and the companies and organizations they funded repeatedly praised Mr. Pruitt and his staff for the assistance he provided in their campaign.

The correspondence points to the tension emerging as Mr. Pruitt is now charged with regulating many of the same companies with which he coordinated closely in his previous position. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt took part in 14 lawsuits against major E.P.A. environmental rules, often in coordination with energy companies such as Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas producer, and American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility.

The emails show that his office corresponded with those companies in efforts to weaken federal environmental regulations — the same rules he will now oversee.

"Please find attached a short white paper with some talking points that you might find useful to cut and paste when encouraging States to file comments on the SSM rule," wrote Roderick Hastie, a lawyer at Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents major utilities, including Southern Company, urging Mr. Pruitt's office to file comments on a proposed E.P.A. rule related to so-called Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction Emissions.

The most frequent correspondence was with Devon Energy, which has aggressively challenged rules proposed by the E.P.A. and the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, which controls drilling on federal lands — widespread in the west. In the 2014 election cycle, Devon was one of the top contributors to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Mr. Pruitt led for two years during that period.

A stop sign stands outside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) building in Washington, DC.
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In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Pruitt's office, William Whitsitt, then an executive vice president of Devon, referred to a letter his company had drafted for Mr. Pruitt to deliver, on Oklahoma state stationery, to Obama administration officials. Mr. Pruitt, meeting with White House officials, made the case that the rule, which would rein in planet-warming methane emissions, would be harmful to his state's economy. His argument was taken directly from Mr. Whitsitt's draft language.

"To follow up on my conversations with Attorney General Pruitt and you, I believe that a meeting — or perhaps more efficient, a conference call — with OIRA (the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Analysis) on the BLM rule should be requested right away," Mr. Whitsitt wrote. "The attached draft letter (or something like it that Scott is comfortable talking from and sending to the acting director to whom the letter is addressed) could be the basis for the meeting or call."

The letter referred to the section of the White House Office of Management and Budget that coordinates regulations throughout the government.

Senate Democrats last week unsuccessfully urged their colleagues to delay a vote on Mr. Pruitt's confirmation until the emails were released.

The emails do not appear to include any request for his intervention explicitly in exchange for campaign contributions, although Mr. Pruitt was separately working as a member of the Republican Attorneys General Association to raise money from many of the same companies.

Despite the large volume of correspondence between Mr. Pruitt's office and the industry players, the emails are unlikely to cause Mr. Pruitt significant new problems. They do expand on email exchanges or topics that previously had been disclosed.

The Oklahoma attorney general's office has withheld some documents, asking the judge to determine if they can be exempted from the order requiring their release. There are also other pending open-records requests, from the Center for Media and Democracy, The Times and other news organizations.