May 24, 2017

Time to Wake Up: The Engine for Pruitt’s Advancement

Mr. President, I am here to discuss what you might call the Scott Pruitt philosophy of environmental regulation. In a recent interview, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency expressed his view that the EPA should “simply pass regulations that provide fairness and equity and allow utilities to make decisions based upon stability, cost, and security to the consumers that they serve.”

Did we notice anything missing in that assertion of what EPA’s role should be? How about no mention of the environment, no mention of climate change, no mention of public health? So my 168th “Time to Wake Up” speech will look at how paid-for Administrator Pruitt is by the very industries he is supposed to be regulating. Often, the word for this is “corruption.”

Scott Pruitt is a functionary of fossil fuel money. He has a long record of dark money fundraising and long, cozy relationships with big fossil fuel political donors.

As you can see, energy interests contributed over $136,000 to Pruitt’s 2014 campaign even though he ran unopposed. During the 2010 and 2014 election cycles, oil and gas giants Devon Energy and Koch Industries–yes, of those infamous Koch brothers–maxed out to Pruitt’s campaigns.

Thanks to Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting by the New York Times, we know that backing Pruitt was a good fossil fuel investment, particularly for Devon Energy. In 2011, Attorney General Scott Pruitt took a letter written by Devon Energy, he put it onto his Oklahoma Attorney General letterhead, he signed it for them, and he sent it off to EPA, pleading Devon Energy’s anti-regulatory case as if it were his own.

As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt directly solicited political donations from companies now regulated by EPA, then regulated by EPA as well. He spoke at dozens of industry events but never at a public health or environmental event. He led the boards of political organizations, like the Republican Attorneys General Association and its dark money political fundraising arm, the so-called Rule of Law Defense Fund, this thing.

Pruitt was a member of the RAGA executive committee–RAGA being Republican Attorneys General Association. He was a member of their executive committee between 2014 and 2016, when RAGA raised $530,000 from Koch Industries–yes, those same infamous Koch brothers–and $125,000 from Devon Energy–yes, of the letter he put onto his own letterhead. Coal giant Murray Energy donated $50,000 to Liberty 2.0, Pruitt’s own super PAC, and it donated $350,000 to RAGA between 2014 and 2016.

The Rule of Law Defense Fund doesn’t have to disclose its donors. They hide in a loophole in the law, but other public reporting has shown that it received at least $175,000 from something called Freedom Partners. With a name like that, you know it is up to no good. Sure enough, it is another dark money group run by several Koch Industries executives. That is not Coca Cola; that is the Koch brothers’ fossil fuel processing company.

We don’t know more about this. Why do we not know more about this? Because Republicans in the Senate protected Scott Pruitt from having to answer these questions during his confirmation process.

While he was busily helping raise dark money, dark money groups, in turn, came back and worked hard to help Pruitt get confirmed to the EPA. A Republican opposition research PAC called America Rising launched a pro-Pruitt ad campaign, and its dark money arm, America Rising Squared, funded A 501(c)(4) dark money entity ironically named Protecting America Now was created solely to help confirm Pruitt to the EPA. Its fliers asked for contributions ranging from $25,000 to $500,000. Just another grassroots group trying to get a good guy confirmed. Koch Industries’ own lobbying disclosure forms reveal it spent part of $3.1 million lobbying to confirm Scott Pruitt.

In Trump’s science-denial Cabinet, Administrator Pruitt seems to see little reason to hide his anti-environment and Republican political interests. He has spoken at the Conservative Political Action Conference and the American Farm Bureau board meeting. He attended rallies with coal miners against his own regulations and met with the National Mining Association’s executive committee “to lay out his concerns with the Paris accord” the day before the mining association voted to press President Trump to withdraw from that agreement.

Administrator Pruitt planned to appear as the keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Republican Party Gala on May 5. This invitation mentioned his official position as EPA Administrator three times. It featured this photo of him being sworn in as the EPA Administrator. It promised donors a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear him discuss his plans to slash regulations, bring back jobs to Oklahoma, and decrease the size of the EPA.”

Well, the 1939 Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, more commonly known as the Hatch Act, forbids this, so I filed a Hatch Act complaint and Administrator Pruitt’s appearance was canceled. The Office of Special Counsel is now conducting a full investigation.

But it wasn’t just there. He goes to other dinners. On February 28, 2017, Pruitt was a speaker at a RAGA major donors dinner. You know who major donors are by now. Days after the RAGA major donors dinner, Pruitt unilaterally withdrew an EPA request for information from oil and gas producers about their methane emissions, citing a letter from nine members of RAGA and two Republican Governors, who alleged the methane information request “furthers the previous administration’s climate agenda and supports … the imposition of burdensome climate rules on existing sites, the cost and expense of which will be enormous.” There was no public comment period. There was no request for input from other States. This basically was a little party favor for his RAGA pals right after the RAGA dinner.

This EPA Administrator has solicited thousands, if not millions, of dollars from corporations he now regulates. Our current ethics laws do not require nominees in the confirmation process to disclose their political and dark money connections, so the Senate and the public are kept blind to the conflicts of interest of such nominees, and we have no idea how those conflicts would manifest in their offices. Pruitt knows who gave dark money to his political causes. The corporations know what dark money they gave. It is just the rest of us who are in the dark.

This is new, and this is weird. This was not a problem for President Obama’s nominees because the dark money political tsunami that has swamped our politics in slime did not exist when President Obama was elected. It was the Citizens United decision of 2010 that allowed unlimited political spending by big special interests, and that unlimited money found dark money channels.

To address the gaping loophole in our Federal ethics laws, I have introduced the Conflicts from Political Fundraising Act with Senators Udall, Carper, Van Hollen, and Franken. This bill would require Presidentially appointed Federal officials like Scott Pruitt to disclose their political fundraising, and it would require Federal ethics officials to address these conflicts by, for example, making sure officials are recused from decisions affecting big political donors, making sure the public has the information to know they should ask for a recusal because the director is conflicted by reason of his political relationship with big dark money donors.

I wish the conflicts at EPA stopped with the Administrator, but they don’t. It is a swarm of swampy conflict over there. Pruitt has surrounded himself with political operatives and fossil fuel lobbyists. The Associate EPA Administrator for Policy previously worked at RAGA, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, and something called the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce–a Koch brothers-funded dark money group that has underwritten the Rule of Law Defense Fund. EPA’s Senior Adviser for Regional and State Affairs came from Pruitt’s own fossil fuel-funded super PAC, Oklahoma Strong. The Assistant Administrator for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations came from the oil company, the Hess Corporation. One Deputy Associate Administrator is the former president of the Ohio Coal Association. Another Deputy Associate Administrator was a registered lobbyist at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, where she specifically lobbied against EPA’s Clean Power Plan and New Source Performance Standard, the clean water rule, the ozone standard, EPA enforcement, pesticides bills, budget resolutions, and EPA appropriations bills.

This corruption of EPA is the work of the fossil fuel industry. One day there must come a reckoning. Just this weekend, the New York Times reported, “How Rollbacks at Scott Pruitt’s E.P.A. Are a Boon to Oil and Gas.” The article included a checklist of rollbacks that specifically benefit long-time Pruitt benefactor Devon Energy–the one that got the letter–delaying a rule raising royalties on fossil energy production on Federal land, undoing new fracking standards, rolling back rules on the leaking and flaring of methane, and rolling back reporting of methane emissions.

In another matter, Devon Energy had been preparing to pay a settlement of over $100,000 and to install emissions scrubbing equipment to remedy illegal emissions from a Wyoming natural gas facility. Five days after Pruitt was installed at EPA, the company told officials it was “re-evaluating its settlement posture,” offering a quarter of what it had previously proposed to settle the charges and scrapping the emissions controls entirely. They know their Administrator Pruitt.

Pruitt’s record at EPA reveals he is unabashedly looking out for his industry donors at the expense of public health and the environment. As far as I can tell, every action he has taken since taking office will lead to an enriched industry–at the expense of dirtier air and dirtier water–and a more imperiled climate.

Myron Ebell is someone I don’t quote often. He is the head of President Trump’s EPA transition team and a prominent climate denier. He has something interesting to say about Scott Pruitt. He has said that he thinks Scott Pruitt is using EPA as a “stepping stone to political office” and that “everything he does is going to be a political calculation about what furthers his own political career.”

This is not a liberal environmentalist making these accusations. This is somebody who is right in Scott Pruitt’s climate denial wheelhouse. This is someone from the Trump science denial EPA destruction team. This is the guy who is in the club of fossil fuel-funded climate denial, and he thinks everything Pruitt does is a political calculation about what furthers Pruitt’s own political career. If that is the case, everything Scott Pruitt does is a conflict of interest, as he sees regulated industry as the funders of his next political campaign. They pay for him now, and he delivers.

Sadly, the people who own Pruitt also own Congress. So good luck getting an honest look at this mess from our fossil fuel-funded colleagues in the majority.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.