The Pruitt Emails: A Petrochemical Puppet Show

More from the Pruitt emails. See how the oil refiners and petrochemical industry enlisted the Oklahoma attorney general—now the head of EPA—to fight the agency's standards.
Credit: Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Part 2 of The Pruitt Emails

In Act 1 we examined Scott Pruitt’s using the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office to do the bidding of natural gas giant Devon Energy. 

Last month’s court-ordered release of more than 7,000 pages of Pruitt’s emails show that other fossil fuel industry players got in on the act as well. The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a trade association for oil refiners, lobbied Pruitt’s office in 2013 to oppose EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and EPA’s strengthening of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone smog, dangerous air pollution that affects tens of millions of Americans.

This time, the financial contributions start at the beginning of the story. In March 2013, shortly before the email correspondence between AFPM and Pruitt’s office began, AFPM’s Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Sarah Magruder Lyle donated $250 to Pruitt’s reelection campaign fund, Scott Pruitt for AG 2014.  

AFPM has been a regular donor to RAGA since its formation in 2014—the trade group has given at least $50,000 each of the last three years, to maintain their membership in the “Attorneys General Capital Club.” AFPM also regularly donates to the Republican State Leadership Committee, contributing more than $225,000 since 2013.

The AFPM-Pruitt emails begin in 2013. After a meeting between Pruitt and AFPM staff, Pruitt’s assistant emailed AFPM’s Lyle and Richard Moskowitz in May: “General Pruitt asked that I email you and put you in contact with Clayton Eubanks, Deputy Solicitor General. Clayton is who would handle issues such as RFS and Ozone NAAQS which you all discussed at the meeting in DC.”

Following a phone conversation on “the economic and environmental implications of the Renewable Fuel Standard” in early July, AFPM’s Moskowitz sent Eubanks several documents to help him prepare to brief Pruitt, including a “White Paper highlighting the environmental and economic impacts of the RFS on Oklahoma.”

Eubanks’ response indicates that Pruitt had decided to help AFPM, even though he and his staff did not yet understand the issue: “Thank you for the information and the phone call and I apologize for not being up to speed on the issue. I have had the opportunity now to become more familiar with the RFS and it's [sic] obvious shortcomings and problems. I think it is safe to say that AG Pruitt has an interest in the issue.”

He also asked several questions of AFPM: “You mentioned using Oklahoma (and other states?) to highlight the severe economic and environmental harm to the State by the RFS, is this the role you envision for Oklahoma? How does that work specifically?” and “What specifically are you asking the Oklahoma AG's Office to do regarding the Petition and this issue?”

AFPM’s Moskowitz responded:

We think it would be most effective for Oklahoma to file a separate waiver petition that emphasizes “severe environmental harm,” as this argument is more credible coming from a State with primary responsibility for achieving and maintaining attainment with the NAAQS. At this point we are not planning on including the environmental arguments in our waiver petition. Oklahoma has standing under section 211(o)(7) to file its own waiver petition and I can walk you through the procedural aspects of this filing...

We would ask OK to file its own waiver petition that develops the severe environmental harm argument. The petition also could address the other statutory elements supporting a waiver (i.e., severe economic harm and inadequate domestic supply).

On August 14, AFPM’s Lyle emailed Pruitt’s personal email account, copying Eubanks:

  Dear General Pruitt –

  I hope you are doing well!

Attached you will find AFPM’s 2014 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) waiver petition which was filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 13. While this petition does not address environmental harm, it provides compelling support on the economic harm cause by the ethanol blendwall under the RFS mandate. The filing of this petition starts the statutory 90-day time period within which EPA must respond.

AFPM remains very interested in the prospect of your state filing a similar waiver request highlighting the environmental harm caused by the RFS mandate which we discussed previously. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Two weeks later, Lyle emailed Pruitt’s Chief of Staff: “As promised, I am sending you a copy of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) waiver petition that AFPM filed on August 13, a template that includes language you may find helpful in crafting a waiver petition, as well as a document that gives specific information on the economic and environmental impacts the RFS has on Oklahoma.” (Emphasis added.)

Under pressure from the fossil fuel industry, EPA announced on November 15, 2013 that the agency would delay issuing standards under the RFS for 2014; EPA eventually finalized the 2014 and 2015 standards in November 2015, which reflected actual biofuel usage in those years. Attorney General Pruitt issued a statement celebrating EPA’s decision to delay the standards: “The evidence is clear that the current ethanol fuel mandate is unworkable.”

Pruitt’s opposition to the RFS program has been cause for concern among Senators representing biofuel-producing states. During his confirmation hearing, Senator Tammy Duckworth questioned Pruitt repeatedly about his commitment to implementing the RFS program as EPA Administrator, saying: “Your entire track record shows you to be someone who opposes the RFS.”  Pruitt dodged the questions, and said “I don’t want to take any steps to undermine the objectives in the statute of the RFS as Administrator of EPA.” Senator Duckworth was unsatisfied with Pruitt’s vague answers, and expressed her concern: “you have not actually said that you are going to stick with it.”

The position that Pruitt advocated on behalf of AFPM while he was Oklahoma AG directly conflicts with the position of the Trump administration, as reflected in Pruitt’s confirmation hearing testimony and written answers. It will be interesting to see which Pruitt emerges as this issue comes before him at EPA.

What have we learned about Scott Pruitt’s modus operandi?

Since his swearing in, Scott Pruitt has continued to show his leanings towards industry, and he has continued to work with the “fossil energy AGs” club of which he was a founding member.

On his first day in office, Pruitt tweeted his commitment to working with burdened “stakeholders - industry, farmers, ranchers, business owners.” EPA’s official press release announcing Pruitt’s confirmation—titled “Job Creators, American Energy Producers, Farmers and Elected Officials Cheer Scott Pruitt’s Ascension to EPA Administrator”—featured testimonials from the fossil fuel industry and others criticizing EPA and celebrating the regulatory rollback expected under Administrator Pruitt.

His rhetoric in early speeches continues to show the contempt for the EPA and its mission that he showed as Oklahoma AG. He told the American Farm Bureau Federation that President Trump’s executive order directing repeal of the Clean Water Rule was “just the first step toward fixing what's wrong with our government regulations.”  He repeated his call for deregulation at the Conservative Political Action Conference, saying “there are some regulations that in the near term need to be rolled back in a very aggressive way.”  

EPA's twitter account used to report on real pollution problems and steps EPA was taking to solve them. Now EPA twitters pictures of Scott Pruitt's meetings with industry groups, his former AG comrades-in-arms, and anti-environmental politicians.

While he continues to call for rescinding health and environmental safeguards on behalf of industry, he has yet to acknowledge the EPA’s principal stakeholders: Americans who breathe the air, drink the water, and feel the heat. 

He has already begun to dismantle clean water and clean air protections. And he has promised to roll back much more. 

It is Pruitt’s duty as EPA Administrator to protect the American people from pollution. But barely a month into his tenure, it’s clear he intends to keep working for the polluters.