Anti-environmental agency head may have violated EPA policies and lied to Congress under oath
By Bob Berwyn
There’s little question that Scott Pruitt is the worst possible person to lead the EPA. He’s been involved in more than a dozen lawsuits against the agency and he’s called for it to be abolished completely, so it’s no surprise that he’s a target for bitter criticism from conservation groups. But his troubles are about to get much bigger than indignant tweets.
The Sierra Club has filed a formal complaint with the Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency demonstrating that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has violated the Agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy in multiple ways. The filing calls for an investigation into and resolution of Pruitt’s comments on carbon dioxide’s role in fueling the climate crisis.
He’s also now facing an ethics complaint by the Oklahoma Bar Association, which will look at whether Pruitt lied under oath to Congress.
During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt denied that greenhouse gases are the primary driver of increasing global temperatures and an escalating series of climate-linked disasters like floods, heatwaves and droughts. He’s trying to undo a series of Obama-era climate regulations, including the fundamental Clean Power Plan that would reduce emissions from U.S. power plants.
“Pruitt clearly violated the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy by publicly denying that carbon pollution is driving the climate crisis” said Senior Sierra Club Attorney Elena Saxonhouse. “If the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy is to have any meaning then this type of clear violation must be strictly enforced and resolved.”
The complaint alerts the Inspector General that “Administrator Pruitt undermines the agency’s mission and its integrity by contradicting basic facts that EPA scientists have studied, verified, and communicated for years. The Scientific Integrity Policy aims not only to protect sound decision-making, but also to engender public trust in the Agency. By misrepresenting his own agency’s science, Administrator Pruitt severely threatens that trust. …. His comments cannot be dismissed as mere error when (a) they concern a basic scientific fact that underlies a widely discussed and publicized policy of his own agency, and (b) there is evidence of political motivation.”
It refers to three key points in the policy:
- “When dealing with science, it is the responsibility of every EPA employee to conduct, utilize, and communicate science with honesty, integrity, and transparency, both within and outside the Agency.” (p. 1)
- “[P]olicy makers shall not knowingly misrepresent, exaggerate, or downplay areas of scientific uncertainty associated with policy decisions.” (p. 5)
- “To operate an effective science and regulatory agency like the EPA, it is also essential that political or other officials not suppress or alter scientific findings.” (p. 1)
In response to a formal ethics complaint filed nine days ago by the Center for Biological Diversity and University of Oklahoma law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos, the Oklahoma Bar Association has opened an investigation into whether U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt lied to Congress while under oath.
Read the full filing online here
The Oklahoma Bar Association investigation is in response to a formal ethics complaint filed nine days ago by the Center for Biological Diversity and University of Oklahoma law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos. It will will look into possible ethical violations stemming from Pruitt’s misrepresentation to senators of his use of a personal email address — while he was Oklahoma attorney general — for official business and speeches he gave to right-wing organizations against environmental protection.
The bar association has requested a response to the complaint from Pruitt. Following the investigation, the bar association’s Professional Responsibility Commission will decide whether to take disciplinary action against the newly minted EPA chief.
The Center’s and Prof. van de Biezenbos’ complaint asserts that Pruitt violated Oklahoma’s rules of professional conduct when he told Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) during his confirmation hearing that he did not use a personal “me.com” email address for official state business while attorney general of Oklahoma. Records released in the course of an Oklahoma public-records lawsuit show that Pruitt received at least one email message, and possibly more, at a “me.com” email address. Additional records are still being reviewed by Oklahoma courts for possible public release.
“I’m very pleased the Oklahoma Bar Association has agreed to investigate this matter,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center. “Lying to Congress is a serious ethical breach, and it doesn’t help that Pruitt’s use of private emails reflect potential collusion with the very oil and gas industry he’s now supposed to be regulating.”
One released email shows a message from a vice president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association to Pruitt’s me.com address, asking him to use his position as Oklahoma attorney general to help roll back renewable fuel standards that were set under the Obama administration. Other released emails show use of a redacted email address for Pruitt that may be personal, showing correspondence with representatives of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is widely viewed as a right-wing organization that has worked to weaken some of the nation’s most important environmental laws, including laws Pruitt administers at the EPA, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
Use of a personal email address for official state business can lead to the loss of government records and to hacking. Federal rules prohibit the use of personal email for official business.
Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works noted in a March 17, 2017 letter to Mr. Pruitt that he failed to mention several public speeches or presentations that he has made related to energy or the environment, including to the Federalist Society.
“As a law professor and a member of the legal profession, I take the ethical standards very seriously,” said Kristen van de Biezenbos, the University of Oklahoma law professor who signed the complaint in her personal capacity. “But such rules are only meaningful when they are fully enforced.”