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  1. Opinion

Editorial: No wonder EPA head wanted emails kept secret

Scott Pruitt was unfit to lead the Environmental Protection Agency even before the release of emails last week revealing how as Oklahoma’s attorney general he worked hand-in-hand with the energy industry to fight the federal agency he now leads.
Published Feb. 24, 2017

Scott Pruitt was unfit to lead the Environmental Protection Agency even before the release of emails last week revealing how as Oklahoma's attorney general he worked hand-in-hand with the energy industry to fight the federal agency he now leads. It already was an open question how this surrogate for big business would enforce the country's environmental laws, preside as a fair arbiter in the national debate over science and manage a skilled bureaucracy that has little faith in the boss. This correspondence brings the confidence level down even further and reflects the challenge Florida and other environmentally sensitive states face with his leadership.

The emails show that Pruitt, as Oklahoma's top legal officer, worked closely with gas and oil companies, utilities and right-leaning political groups to attack EPA initiatives under then-President Barack Obama. The companies provided Pruitt with draft letters to submit to the federal government in an effort to block regulations on ozone air pollution, emissions from global-warming greenhouse gases and the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the risky process of injecting chemical solutions underground to free oil and gas deposits, according to the emails.

The correspondence showed that Pruitt's office and regulated industries closely coordinated their lobbying attacks. "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," one lobbyist wrote, urging Pruitt to weigh in on a proposed EPA emissions rule. In another letter, an Oklahoma energy executive referred to a letter his company had drafted for Pruitt to submit on state stationery to the Obama administration. In another case, an industry lobbying group gave Pruitt's office the language for a petition to oppose a mandate for renewable fuels and limits on smog-causing chemicals. "This argument," the lobbying group wrote, "is more credible coming from a state."

Pruitt's willingness to act as a shill for big business should be no surprise given his history of siding with the energy industry over the environment and public health. But fighting the agency is one thing; these emails raise new concerns about his leading the agency. Beyond any Obama-era policies Trump would reverse, Pruitt would still oversee an agency charged with soliciting public input as part of EPA's rulemaking process. His record of dealing with industry players behind the scenes and trying to keep it secret calls his commitment to transparency into question. An Oklahoma judge ordered the emails to be released in response to a lawsuit by a liberal watchdog group.

The stakes are particularly high for Florida, a coastal state with large numbers of seniors and children whose health depends on clean air and water. The state's tourist industry and capacity to grow also hinges on the availability to produce new drinking water supplies, to curb the outbreak of any public health emergency and to protect basic public infrastructure at risk from flooding, saltwater intrusion and other impacts of climate change. Pruitt is so closely allied with business they spoke with the same voice. There is no sign he intends to change in this larger position of public trust.

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