By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on the U.S. Senate's environment panel on Wednesday asked President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency to disclose his ties to the energy industry ahead of his confirmation hearing early next year.
The six senators sent a letter to Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma Attorney General led several lawsuits against the Obama administration's EPA to block its environmental rules, to ask him to list his connections to energy companies to weigh whether these ties will influence his ability to run the agency.
"What that conduct says about your ability to lead EPA in a manner that is not beholden to special or secret interests is a subject that we expect will receive a full airing during your confirmation hearing," the senators wrote in the letter.
The senators raised concerns about a 2014 New York Times report, which found that Pruitt's close ties to Devon Energy Corp were reflected in his policy positions as Oklahoma's top attorney.
For his part, Pruitt said to newspaper The Oklahoman that Devon Energy was a constituent that he represents and the company made people aware of the government's regulatory overreach on fracking.
The senators also said Pruitt's involvement with the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which they said supports initiatives by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who have opposed the EPA's climate change regulations.
They asked Pruitt to submit details about his connections and contributions to the Fund, his communications with the fund and a "list of all federal and state legislation or regulations the Fund has taken a position on."
"The confirmation process, starting with your responses to Committee questions before your hearing, is an opportunity for you to dispel the notion that the advocacy you have undertaken on environmental issues as Attorney General of Oklahoma has been directed by and for the benefit of the energy industry," the senators wrote.
A spokesman for Pruitt was not immediately available for comment.
The Democratic Senators who sent the letter are Rhode Island's Sheldon Whitehouse, former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Oregon's Jeff Merkley, New Jersey's Cory Booker, Massachusetts' Ed Markey and Maryland's Ben Cardin.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy)