EPA head's emails with energy companies to be released

AP News
Posted: Feb 21, 2017 7:33 PM
EPA head's emails with energy companies to be released

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma attorney general's office said Tuesday it is complying with a judge's order to surrender documents related to new Environmental Protection Agency leader Scott Pruitt's communications with energy companies while he served as the state's attorney general.

The office had until 5 p.m. Tuesday to comply with District Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons's order to turn over emails and other documents to the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy, which requested the documents more than two years ago under Oklahoma's Open Records Act.

A spokesman for the office, Lincoln Ferguson, said it turned over records related to the January 2015 request to the watchdog agency and that other records were turned over to the judge to determine if they are privileged and not subject to release under the law.

"The office went above and beyond what is required under the Open Records Act and produced thousands of additional documents that, but for the court's order, would typically be considered records outside the scope of the act," Ferguson said in an emailed statement.

"This broad disclosure should provide affirmation that, despite politically motivated allegations, the office of attorney general remains fully committed to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act," Ferguson said.

An attorney for the advocacy group, Bob Nelon, said he received an email from the attorney general's office at 4:14 p.m. Tuesday indicating that it planned to comply with the judge's order and make the documents available.

Nelon said the records were provided electronically and that an initial review indicated one computer disk contained 7,564 pages, although it was not immediately clear how many documents they represent.

The attorney general's office had previously identified more than 3,000 emails that it said pertained to the group's January 2015 request.

Nelon said the records will be transmitted to the Center for Media and Democracy, which plans to make them publicly available on its website.

Timmons has also ordered the attorney general to comply with other open-records requests by the group in 2015 and 2016.

The judge handed down her ruling on Thursday in connection with a lawsuit the group filed that accused the attorney general's office of failing to provide "prompt and reasonable access" to the documents, as required by the Open Records Act.

Pruitt resigned his post as Oklahoma attorney general on Friday, the day he was sworn in as President Donald Trump's EPA administrator.

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Among other things, the January 2015 request sought information about Pruitt's communications, private meetings and relationships with fossil fuel companies as the state's attorney general, companies he will help regulate as EPA administrator.

Nelon said later requests were more narrowly tailored and that the advocacy group has no idea how many documents are involved.

As Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt repeatedly sued the EPA and criticized what he has characterized as the EPA's "activist agenda." He has been a reliable booster of the fossil fuel industry and has said his support for legal positions advocated by oil and gas companies was in the best interest of Oklahoma, which is economically dependent on the fossil fuel industry.

In his first meeting with the EPA's staff Tuesday, Pruitt said he believes the nation can be "pro-energy and jobs, and pro-environment."

"I think our nation has done better than any nation in the world at making sure that we do the job of protecting our natural resources, and protecting our environment, while also respecting economic growth," Pruitt said.