Pruitt’s stance on ethics
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May 10, 2017
Pruitt’s stance on ethics

In a memo sent to senior EPA staff, Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt describes the actions he will take to meet his ethics obligations. Pruitt states that he will not participate in two types of activities: (1) those involving the state of Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as attorney general (AG) before coming to the EPA, and three other nongovernment organizations and (2) judicial cases in which Oklahoma is a party, petitioner, or intervenor. Pruitt says that his nonparticipation for ethical reasons does not extend to EPA rulemaking.

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Democrats seek DAEO review

Pruitt’s ability to lead the EPA in a nonconflicted manner has been called into question because, as Oklahoma’s AG, he participated in more than a dozen suits mounted by industry and other states against EPA rules. At his nomination hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), Democrats requested that Pruitt ask EPA’s designated agency ethics officer (DAEO) if he is ethically qualified to participate in particular matters involving “specific parties in which he knows Oklahoma is a party or represents a party.”

Nonparticipation for 1 year

In his memo, Pruitt states that for a period of 1 year after his resignation as Oklahoma’s AG he will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving the state of Oklahoma in which the state is a party or represents a party unless he is authorized to do so by the DAEO. He makes the same pledge regarding three organizations in which he was a member: the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Windows Ministry Incorporated, and the Rule of Law Defense Fund. The Defense Fund describes itself as a “public policy organization for issues relevant to the nation’s Republican attorneys general, [which] promotes the rule of law, federalism, and freedom in a civil society.”

Nonparticipation for EPA term

Pruitt also writes that “to demonstrate my profound commitment to carrying out my ethical responsibilities,” while he is EPA administrator, he will not participate in any active cases in which Oklahoma is a party, petitioner, or intervenor. The memo lists 12 cases, including challenges to EPA’s methane rule for new oil and gas infrastructure, the Clean Water Rule, the Clean Power Plan, and regional haze rule determinations.

The EPW has published a list of cases Pruitt initiated or joined or acted as an amicus found here.

Democratic members of the EPA have also made a number of requests to Pruitt to answer their questions regarding potential conflicts of interest he may have concerning EPA’s review of the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan. The Democrats have given no indication that Pruitt has responded to any of their questions.

Inadvertent participation

Pruitt’s memo includes a “screening arrangement.” This involves directing members of his senior staff to screen all EPA matters, including existing litigation, before it reaches Pruitt’s desk to ensure he does not “inadvertently participate in matters from which I am recused.”

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