- Views & Opinions
A lawsuit filed this week accuses Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, of violating open records law by not providing access to emails and other official documents sought for up to two years.
The Wisconsin-based advocacy group the Center for Media and Democracy alleges in its lawsuit that “Pruitt has denied prompt, reasonable access” to records sought in nine records requests since 2015 seeking communications between Pruitt and Koch Industries and other coal, oil and gas corporations, as well as the corporate-funded Republican Attorney General’s Association.
The lawsuit says Pruitt’s office acknowledged in August 2016 that it has 3,000 emails and other documents relevant to the Center for Media and Democracy’s first request in January 2015 but has yet to turn over any of the records.
The lawsuit, filed in state district court in Oklahoma City, also requests an injunction to prevent Pruitt’s office from destroying any emails or documents related to the organization’s requests.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which represents the advocacy group, said Pruitt’s office agreed later in the day to preserve the documents while the litigation is pending.
A spokesman for Pruitt’s office characterized the lawsuit as “nothing more than political theatre” and said the office notified the organization just last week “that release of their request was imminent.”
“The Office of Attorney General remains committed to fulfilling both the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act,” spokesman Lincoln Ferguson said in a statement.
Pruitt’s failure to release the documents “is unreasonable and unjustifiable,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.
“Instead of complying with the law, he has stonewalled public interest groups, the United States Senate and the American people,” Kiesel said. “When it comes to accountability and transparency, no government official is above the law — including the attorney general of Oklahoma.”
Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA was approved last week by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is now pending before the full Senate.
ACLU Legal Director Brady Henderson said many of the documents that the advocacy group has requested are also being sought by the Senate and other watchdog groups who want to scrutinize Pruitt’s contacts with an industry he has been selected to regulate.
“Public records belong in public view, not hidden away behind closed doors,” Henderson said. “That’s what has been frustrated by Attorney General Pruitt’s process, which has now taken to date over two years – and the end is nowhere in sight.”
“We’ve been denied the right to look at those documents,” said co-counsel Blake Lawrence of Oklahoma City. “We just want to see what the documents say.”
As attorney general, Pruitt has 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.
The Center for Media and Democracy filed seven records requests with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office in 2015 and 2016 and another two requests last month, seeking communications with Koch Industries and other coal, oil and gas corporations, as well as the corporate-funded Republican Attorney General’s Association. Pruitt has yet to turn over a single document, despite acknowledging in August 2016 that his office has 3,000 emails and other documents relevant to CMD’s first request in January 2015.
The Oklahoma Open Records Act says “the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government . . . so they may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.” The act also mandates that a public body “must provide prompt, reasonable access to its records.”
The CMD reports that over the past 15 years, Scott Pruitt has received nearly $350,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, including Continental Resource, whose CEO served as his 2014 campaign chairman.
Pruitt has also raised funds for his two federal PACs — Liberty 2.0 and Oklahoma Strong — from fracking giant Devon Energy and coal company Alliance Resources. In 2014, a New York Times investigation found that Devon Energy lobbyists drafted letters for Pruitt to send to the EPA and Department of the Interior under his own name.
Last year, Pruitt orchestrated an effort by Republican state attorneys general to oppose the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In March, Pruitt sent an email to supporters of his federal PAC boasting of his efforts to block Garland’s confirmation as well as “successfully (block) the President’s Clean Power plan, his immigration rule and his attempt at a massive takeover of the waters of the U.S.”