As the Senate moves to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency this week, the ACLU, the ACLU of Oklahoma, and the Center for Media and Democracy filed a legal challenge yesterday to Pruitt’s failure to comply with his state’s Open Records Act.
Pruitt has a history of unreasonably stonewalling requests for documents, including in response to questions from U.S. senators following his confirmation hearing. During the confirmation process, Pruitt brazenly suggested that if senators had questions about certain dealings of his office, they could file an open records request pursuant to Oklahoma law.
Not only are his obstructive and indirect responses problematic, Pruitt left out one glaring detail: Under his leadership, the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General doesn’t always respond to open records requests, including years old requests for the very information members of the Senate are seeking.
Since 2015, the Center for Media and Democracy has filed seven open records requests seeking Pruitt’s communications with Koch Industries and other coal, oil, and gas corporations as well as the corporate-funded Republican Attorneys General Association.
To this day, the group hasn’t received one single document, even though Pruitt acknowledged in 2016 that his office has 3,000 emails and other documents relevant to the center’s records request.
It’s no secret that Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry run deep.
Over the past 15 years, Pruitt has received nearly $350,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, including Continental Resources, whose CEO served as his 2014 campaign chairman. Pruitt has also raised substantial funds for his two federal political action committees — 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.
In our legal challenge, we are demanding that Pruitt’s office immediately release the records requested by the Center for Media and Democracy as well as an admit that a 24-month delay is a violation of the Open Records Act.
As attorney general, Pruitt is an elected representative subject to Oklahoma’s Open Records Act. The law states that “the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government.” Failing to comply with the act sends a strong signal that Pruitt is uninterested in the transparency and accountability we rightfully expect from our government.
A two-year delay is unreasonable, unjustifiable, and flies in the face of one of our central tenets of democracy: If the people are to make informed decisions, we must be kept apprised of our government’s behavior. This is a core American value and one that Pruitt has at best chosen to take for granted, at worst worked actively to thwart.
Americans have a right to know whether Pruitt will run the EPA in their interest or the fossil fuel industry’s interest. If Pruitt’s habit of secrecy offers any indication of his future behavior as the possible head of the EPA, his role and duties will go unchecked to the possible detriment of the environment and the current and future generations that depend on it.