attorney general

Scott Pruitt Emails: Oil Lobbyists Drafted His Letters as Oklahoma's AG

  • Posted on: 23 February 2017
  • By: Connor Gibson

Scott Pruitt had a bad habit as Oklahoma's attorney general: he liked to have oil lobbyists ghostwrite his official government letters calling for limits to enforcing federal pollution laws.

A lawsuit initiated by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has forced thousands of Scott Pruitt's emails into the daylight, after Pruitt's office delayed CMD's records requests for two years. CMD says it anticipates more documents in the coming weeks, so we're in the middle of an unfolding saga. You may recall this 2014 New York Times article by Eric Lipton, which opened with this juicy hook:

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

“Outstanding!” William F. Whitsitt, who at the time directed government relations at the company, said in a note to Mr. Pruitt’s office. The attorney general’s staff had taken Devon’s draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general’s signature. “The timing of the letter is great, given our meeting this Friday with both E.P.A. and the White House.”

Mr. Whitsitt then added, “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”

Now we know this was not an isolated incident. A new article in today's New York Times notes a similar favor Pruitt conducted at the request of Devon Energy lobbyists who were concerned about U.S. Bureau of Land Management rules that could restrict oil and gas extraction on public lands:

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.

Two weeks later Devon's Bill Whitsitt sent a celebratory email to Pruitt's staff, saying, "I just let General Pruitt know that BLM is going to propose a different version of its federal lands hydraulic fracturing rule thanks to input received – thanks for the help on this!" In the most striking new example, CMD revealed that Scott Pruitt's staff accepted draft letters from oil refinery lobbyists who wanted government help to attack renewable fuels and limits to smog pollution:

The oil and gas lobby group American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) coordinated opposition in 2013 to both the Renewable Fuel Standard Program and ozone limits with Pruitt’s office. While AFPM was making its own case against the RFS with the American Petroleum Institute, it provided Pruitt with a template language for an Oklahoma petition, noting “this argument is more credible coming from a State.” Later that year, Pruitt did file opposition to both the RFS and ozone limits.

I recommend this deep dive by DeSmog Blog if you want more specific examples of oil lobbyists running Pruitt's agenda.

The emails are peppered with examples of Pruitt and his staff coordinating with Koch Industries and its political surrogates, including a conference call with a Koch Industries lobbyist. Pruitt frequently worked with some of the most notable Koch-funded climate denier hubs, including Americans for Prosperity, the Federalist Society, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the State Policy Network.

Pruitt was a keynote speaker for another well-known Koch venture in May, 2013, at a reception for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC's event was held at the Oklahoma City Petroleum Club, and Pruitt was told it would be sponsored by Koch Industries, Devon Energy, TransCanada, Continental Resources, and Phillips66. ALEC is the dating service for state legislators and corporate lobbyists, where Scott Pruitt has been a celebrity in recent years for leading other state attorneys general into attacks on the EPA.

The appointment to lead the EPA is a reward for Pruitt, who dutifully acted on behalf of fossil fuel companies as Oklahoma attorney general, and a consequence of the Republican administrations close ties to the oil and coal industries.

At Greenpeace, we invite our supporters to join us and resist this administration's handover of federal agencies to the industries who are supposed to be monitored by them. Scientific fact can't be yelled into submission. We'd rather not have the President learn that lesson by failing to protect Americans from the damage done by an unstable climate.

Just as Scott Pruitt's denial of fracking-related Oklahoma earthquakes did nothing to stop a surge in real earthquakes, putting a climate denier in charge of the EPA is not going to undo the global rise in average surface temperatures that lead to intense drought, flooding, storms, and sea level rise.

Industry: 

Virginia Clean Energy Under Threat from Cuccinelli, Coal Companies, ALEC and Koch Front Groups

  • Posted on: 30 January 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Image credit: ReneweBlog

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli is working with coal companies and State Policy Network groups backed by Koch Industries to rollback VA's voluntary clean energy program.

In states across the country, the American Legislative Exchange Council--or ALEC--and other State Policy Network groups are lining up to roll back clean energy laws, an effort complimented by captured politicians like Mr. Cuccinelli.

Ken Cuccinelli is a former ALEC member, and he's working with ALEC member company Dominion Resources to end Virginia's clean energy program. The same Dominion that just gave him $10,000 for his run for governor, on top of almost $46,000 in previous years for other political positions.

While Virginia's voluntary renewable portfolio standard is far from perfect, it's neither helpful nor inspiring for Mr. Cuccinelli to scrap the program altogether on behalf of a few vested dirty energy interests.

Rather, as Chesapeake Climate Action Network suggests, Virginia's law needs to be strengthened in ways that increase clean energy production and the good jobs that come with it. Both Cuccinelli and CCAN agree the law has flaws and loopholes that don't properly incentivize new clean energy development within the state of Virginia. Some of the law's weaknesses:

  • Dominion Virginia and Appalachian Power have each qualified for ratepayer subsidies without actually building any new clean energy facilities in Virginia.
  • The law's loose definition of "renewable energy" ensures that filthy energy qualifies for government support, including burning gas collected from landfills and producing energy from trash incineration, which is dirtier than burning coal and are usually located in areas with disproportionately high populations of people living in poverty, often people of color.
  • Unambitious targets for the proportion of renewable energy production by 2025.
  • The program is voluntary in the first place.

So far, Mr. Cuccinelli has not seemed to notice legislation alternatives proposed by CCAN that would "tie any RPS bonuses to investment in Virginia-made wind and solar energy. This solution will ensure that Virginians are getting the benefits of a cleaner environment. It also creates a market that fosters growth in the renewable energy sector which will create thousands of jobs within our borders."

Ken Cuccinelli and Climate Science Intimidation:

The point of making clean energy competitive with dirty fossil fuels is to keep our air and water clean and avoid runaway climate change, an issue where Ken Cuccinelli has been aggressively counterproductive.

Mr. Cuccinelli is well known for his harassment of Michael Mann, a climate scientist vilified by industry apologists for creating the "Hockey Stick" graph illustrating the increase of average global temperature measurements over the last millennium.

Mirroring the scientifically unfounded attacks of State Policy Network outfits like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and American Tradition Institute, Cuccinelli was heavily criticized by a Virginia judge for not having an "objective basis" for accusations of fraudulent research at the University of Virginia. Cuccinelli's persecution of science has even put off other climate science deniers, according to a Greenpeace Freedom of Information Act request.

Demonstrating direct cooperation with Koch-funded State Policy Network groups, Ken Cuccinelli will attend an Americans for Prosperity event in Richmond, VA on February 7. Tea Party activists will be bussed in on the dime of Koch and other AFP donors to hear Cuccinelli speak along with David Koch's top PR captain--AFP president Tim Phillips--and other Virginia politicians like Lt. Governor Bill Bolling.

We'll see if the renewable energy rollback is a point of discussion at AFP's event. Americans for Prosperity has promoted a fossil fuel agenda since David Koch helped re-birth AFP from its predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was also run by the Kochs and Koch Industries executive Richard Fink.

Ken Cuccinelli's Dirty Money:

Mr. Cuccinelli's financial conflicts of interest have drawn extra attention to this discussion on Virginia's commitment to renewable energy. Huffington Post reported that Intrust Wealth Management, a company whose board of directors has included Charles Koch since 1982, gave Cuccinelli $50,000 for his failed gubernatorial election bid, on top of a previous $10,000 from Koch Industries. Also on the Cuccinelli payroll were coal interests like Dominion Energy, CONSOL Energy and Alpha Natural Resources (which purchased the mountain top removal menace, Massey Energy).

Mr. Cuccinelli is used to being bankrolled by dirty interests. According to the National Institute for Money in State Politics, from 2003-2011 the following interests were top supporters of his VA Senate and Attorney General election campaigns:

  • COAL MINING AND BURNING$161,796
    • $46,500 from Dominion Resources -- ALEC member
    • $42,000 from Alpha Natural Resources
    • $10,000 from Massey Energy -- merged with Alpha after a fatal mining disaster
    • $33,000 from Consol Energy
    • $16,750 American Electric Power -- ALEC member
    • $6,996 from the Virginia Coal Association
    • $6,550 from Norfolk Southern, a railroad company that transports and markets coal
  • TOBACCO INTERESTS$58,000
    • $24,500 from Altria (owns Phillip Morris) -- ALEC member, ALEC Private Enterprise Board member
    • $10,000 from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (owned by Altria)
    • $12,500 from Bailey's Cigarettes
    • $11,000 from S&M Brands (owned by Bailey's)
  • GUN LOBBY$17,000
    • $17,000 from the National Rifle Association (many of the illegal guns in this country are from Virginia gun shows) -- ALEC member
  • CORPORATE POLLUTER LOBBYING FIRMS: $19,562
    • $11,250 from Hunton & Williams, a corporate lobbying firm that runs the coal front group Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) to interfere with EPA pollution controls. Hunton was also caught up in a scandal to monitor and smear political opponents of Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
    • $8,312 from Troutman Sanders, a corporate lobbying firm that has recently represented coal and tobacco interests like Duke Energy, the National Mining Association, Southern Company, Peabody Energy, and Altria.

Dirty energy interests like Dominion, AEP, Duke Energy, Peabody and others are using their political allies and groups like ALEC alike to attack renewable energy across the board, in coordination with a familiar public relations play that victimizes dirty coal operations and mocks all forms of clean energy.

Coal pollution from companies like these prematurely kill thousands of Americans each year. The Clean Air Task Force notes that government action to reduce coal pollution has a direct effect on reducing these needless deaths. A peer-reviewed report by the late Paul Epstein in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences estimated up to $500 billion--half a trillion dollars--in annual costs to society from the life cycle of coal.

Clean energy generation doesn't pose the same terrible threats to our economy, air, water, health, and the global climate that life on this planet is adapted to, but good luck telling that to Ken Cuccinelli, another politician captured by the pollution lobby.

Industry: