June 7, 2018

Senators Ask Inspector General to Investigate EPA Withholding Murray ‘Action Plan’ & Scrubbing Pruitt Calendars

Documents suggest EPA has kept key information from congressional investigators

Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Tom Carper (D-DE) asked the Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate withheld documents and potential misrepresentations to Congress about the influence of coal baron Robert Murray and others.  The letter highlights a number of requests by Whitehouse and Carper for documents that shed light on Murray’s interactions with the EPA, including an “action plan” Murray has provided multiple Trump officials at the White House and Department of Energy.  Recent reports and documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that copies of the action plan and other information were addressed to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and suggest that Murray and Pruitt met in March 2017. 

The Senators write, “it appears to us that EPA had documents responsive to our request as early as March 2017 in the form of scheduling emails and documents provided by Mr. Murray’s staff to Administrator Pruitt.  While we do not know for certain whether the Murray-Pruitt meeting took place on March 29, it was confirmed by Ms. [Millan] Hupp on March 27, and Administrator Pruitt was at EPA at the time of the meeting with nothing else scheduled on his Outlook calendar.”

The Senators also raise questions about meetings between Pruitt, industrialist and hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens, disgraced Cardinal George Pell, and others that appear to have been scrubbed from calendars and documents made public through FOIA and given to congressional investigators.  Those meetings also do not appear in Pruitt’s Outlook calendars for official business.  EPA official-turned-whistleblower Kevin Chmielewski told the New York Times that EPA officials worked to conceal the meeting with Pell after sexual assault violations surfaced.

These episodes raise two key questions, the Senators write: (1) Are EPA political staff interfering with congressional or Freedom of Information Act requests for documents? And (2) are EPA political staff scrubbing Pruitt’s calendars of embarrassing or damaging meetings before disclosing them to Congress or the public? 

Full text of the Senators’ letter is below.  A PDF copy is available here.

June 7, 2018

Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (2410T)

Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear Inspector General Elkins,

We write to request that you initiate an audit into how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responds to congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.  The practices that we have observed at best show a breakdown of internal EPA procedures for reviewing agency records when responding to congressional oversight requests, sloppy management of the Administrator’s Outlook calendar, and improper use of FOIA redactions.  At worst, they demonstrate an intent to mislead Congress and the public by concealing meetings of interest on the Administrator’s calendar and concealing documents unless ordered by a court to disclose them.  What follows are two examples that illustrate our concerns. 

Murray Action plan

It has been widely reported that Bob Murray, the president of Murray Energy, drafted an energy “action plan” which he widely shared with the Trump administration.  Mr. Murray first acknowledged the existence of the plan in a PBS Frontline documentary that aired in October 2017.[1] 

The following is a chronology of our efforts to obtain the plan and related communications from EPA:

  • On October 27, 2017, Senators Carper and Whitehouse wrote to Administrator Pruitt asking for a copy of the action plan and any communications related to it.  (Attached as Exhibit A.)
  • On November 8, 2017, Senator Whitehouse asked Andrew Wheeler, former lobbyist for Murray Energy and now EPA’s Deputy Administrator, for a copy of the plan during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW).  Mr. Wheeler said he had seen a copy of the plan but claimed not to have a copy of it.
  • On November 28, 2017, EPA responded to the Carper-Whitehouse letter of October 27, stating that the agency had “already conducted centralized Outlook searches of EPA officials that would have been engaged on this topic” and that “these searches did not capture any instances of the ‘action plan.’”  (Attached as Exhibit B).
  • On December 6, 2017, In These Times released photos of a meeting between Secretary Perry and Robert Murray.  These photos show Secretary Perry reviewing a version of Robert Murray’s/Murray Energy’s action plan and cover letter dated March 23, 2017, addressed to Secretary Perry. 
  • At the beginning of January 2018, Senator Whitehouse’s office obtained a copy of the action plan, this one addressed to Vice President Pence. 
  • On January 10, 2018, Senator Whitehouse sent another letter to Administrator Pruitt, among other federal officials, again asking for any copies of the action plan (which was attached to the letter) and associated communications between EPA staff and Mr. Murray and his representatives.  (Attached as Exhibit C.)
  • On February 1, 2018, EPA replied to the January 10, 2018 request, stating:  “Now knowing specific phrases used in the action plan, we again searched through the Outlook accounts of relevant officials.  These searches did not capture any instances of the ‘action plan.’”  (Attached as Exhibit D.) 
  • On or about May 30, 2018, EPA made public a voluminous production of emails pursuant to a FOIA request made by the Sierra Club.  Included in that production was an email exchange on March 22-27, 2017, between EPA staffer Sydney Hupp and Michael Carey, Vice President of Government Affairs at Murray Energy, scheduling a meeting between Administrator Pruitt and Mr. Murray on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 11:00. (Attached as Exhibit E.)  The meeting was the same day Mr. Murray met with Secretary Perry to discuss his action plan.[2]  On March 22, Mr. Carey tells Ms. Hupp he is “sending him a memo now.”
  • EPA had previously and separately made available the Outlook calendars of Administrator Pruitt pursuant to another FOIA request.  His calendar for March 29 shows Administrator Pruitt was at EPA that morning but does not show a meeting with Mr. Murray.  It also does not show the time as being occupied with any other meeting or event.  (Attached as Exhibit F.)
  • On or about June 6, 2018, a tranche of documents was released by the Department of Energy to E&E News, [3] including two documents relevant to our previous inquiries but never disclosed:
  1. a copy of the Murray action plan addressed to Administrator Pruitt dated March 23, 2017;
  2. a letter addressed to Administrator Pruitt dated March 28, 2017 transmitting six executive orders and one memorandum related to President Trump’s Energy Independence Executive Order.

(Both are attached as Exhibit G.)

In sum, it appears to us that EPA had documents responsive to our request as early as March 2017 in the form of scheduling emails and documents provided by Mr. Murray’s staff to Administrator Pruitt.  While we do not know for certain whether the Murray-Pruitt meeting took place on March 29, it was confirmed by Ms. Hupp on March 27, and Administrator Pruitt was at EPA at the time of the meeting with nothing else scheduled on his Outlook calendar. 

Other Omissions from Administrator Pruitt’s Calendar

Also contained in the Sierra Club emails were exchanges between Administrator Pruitt’s scheduler Millan Hupp and the organizers of the Concordia Summit, which Administrator Pruitt attended in New York City on September 19, 2017.[4]  The emails indicate that while at the conference, Administrator Pruitt met with Andrew Littlefair[5] and T. Boone Pickens,[6] George Logothetis,[7] former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar and John Negroponte.  (Attached as Exhibit H).  Administrator Pruitt’s Outlook calendars show no such meetings.  Instead, they indicate he arrived in New York on September 18 on a flight from Tulsa, OK with no business scheduled that day and that on September 19, his only official business consisted of two television appearances, participating in a 30-minute session at the conference, and a meeting with a New York Times reporter.  The block of time during which these meetings were scheduled is redacted pursuant to a “(b)(6)” FOIA exemption.[8]

In addition, the New York Times has reported that EPA officials took steps to hide the fact the Administrator had dinner with Cardinal George Pell on June 9, 2017 in Rome.[9]  After Cardinal Pell was charged with sexual assault later that month by Australian authorities, EPA took steps to conceal Cardinal Pell’s attendance at the dinner, according to EPA whistleblower Kevin Chmielewski.   At least four EPA documents about Administrator Pruitt’s trip to Italy, two with names of attendees at the Pruitt-Pell dinner, have been made public by EPA.  None identify Cardinal Pell.[10]  Moreover, Administrator Pruitt’s Outlook calendars show only two meetings while he is in Rome, both of which were redacted pursuant to a “(b)(6)” FOIA exemption.

These episodes leave us with two primary questions, both of which we believe are appropriate for review by your office:

  • When faced with congressional or Freedom of Information Act requests for documents, are the practices EPA has established to locate and provide responsive documents adequate to ensure that the responses will be complete and accurate, and not subject to improper interference by political staff?
  • Are EPA’s practices associated with maintaining and disclosing copies of the Administrator’s calendar adequate to ensure that those records are complete, accurate, and not subject to inappropriate redactions or deletions when released to Congress or the public or otherwise improper interference by political staff?

Thank you for considering our request for a thorough review of these issues. 


[1] Frontline, War on the EPA.  https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/war-on-the-epa/

[3] Hannah Northey and Benjamin Storrow, “Bob Murray drafted 6 orders on coal, climate for Trump,” E&E News, June 6, 2018.  https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060083703

[4]  Mr. Pruitt’s wife Marlyn was paid $2,000 plus travel expenses to provide “logistics” at the summit.  Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Josh Dawsey, “Scott Pruitt enlisted an EPA aide to help his wife find a job — with Chick-fil-A,” Washington Post, June 5, 2018.   https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/scott-pruitt-enlisted-an-epa-aide-to-help-his-wife-find-a-job–at-chick-fil-a/2018/06/05/b798e4e4-5eac-11e8-9ee3-49d6d4814c4c_story.html?utm_term=.d8ae15293dda

[5] Littlefair is the President and CEO of Clean Energy, a company that provides natural gas and associated equipment to the transportation industry.  https://www.cleanenergyfuels.com/about-us/board-of-directors-leadership/board-of-directors/andrew-j-littlefair/

[6] Pickens, an oil and gas industry executive, is a major fundraiser for the Trump-aligned America First Action PAC.  https://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/22/trump-texas-fundraising-244047

[7] Logothetis is the chairman and CEO of the Libra Group, which has interests in renewable energy and shipping.  https://www.libra.com/en/what-we-do/

[8] FOIA exemption 6 a protects from disclosure information about individuals in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”  5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6)

[9] Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman, “Pruitt’s Dinner With Cardinal Accused of Abuse Was Kept Off Public Schedule,” New York Times, May 11, 2018.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/climate/pruitt-cardinal-pell-dinner.html

[10] Id. 

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