Oklahoma judge orders EPA nominee Scott Pruitt to turn over emails to watchdog group

EPA warned of Trump's order to reshape the agency
EPA warned of Trump's order to reshape the agency

An Oklahoma County district judge on Thursday ordered President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the EPA to turn over thousands of communications to a watchdog group.

The decision comes ahead of Pruitt's confirmation to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which is expected to take place on Friday.

The order is the latest turn in a lawsuit against Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt brought by the Center for Media and Democracy earlier this month. The group charges that Pruitt violated the Oklahoma Open Records Act for declining to make public official documents it has requested since 2015.

Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons instructed Pruitt's office to hand over the emails to the group by Tuesday. The Oklahoma attorney general has 10 days to comply with the group's other records requests, Timmons ruled.

The center has sought correspondences between Pruitt's office and Koch Industries, other mining and drilling companies, and the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Pruitt chaired. As of Thursday's hearing, the office had produced 411 of the 3,000 emails that have been requested, according to the group.

Timmons found "there was an abject failure to provide prompt and reasonable access to documents requested" by the group.

Controversy surrounds Trump's pick to lead EPA
Controversy surrounds Trump's pick to lead EPA

The Oklahoma attorney general's office could not immediately be reached for a statement.

Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works boycotted a vote to move forward Pruitt's confirmation and have since sought to stall a vote in the full chamber. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has pointed to at least 52 outstanding Open Records Act requests directed to the Oklahoma attorney general's office as one reason for Democratic opposition.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted to end debate on Pruitt's nomination.

Among the emails CMD says it had not received is a correspondence featured prominently in a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times story. The communication showed Pruitt's office signed a letter, drafted by lawyers for Devon Energy, that accused federal regulators of overstating the amount of pollution caused by new natural gas wells.

The Times article detailed Pruitt's leading role in an effort by Republican attorneys general to challenge Obama-era regulations in partnership with corporate interests.

Since his nomination, Pruitt has attracted widespread condemnation from environmentalists and Democrats for suing the EPA multiple times and questioning the science behind climate change. His calls for states to take more control over energy industry regulation has drawn support among conservatives and corporate interests.

"Scott Pruitt and Senate Republicans have made a mockery of the confirmation process, permitting the nominee to escape scrutiny and hide his deep ties to the fossil fuel industry," the Sierra Club said in a statement.

"The vote to confirm Pruitt must now be delayed until every senator can see just who Pruitt is and what he will do if permitted to run the EPA."