Watchdog group sues Trump EPA pick to disclose contact with energy companies

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By Valerie Volcovici | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Feb 7 A media watchdog group is
suing to force U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick to head the
Environmental Protection Agency to release records detailing his
communications with energy companies ahead of a Senate vote to
confirm his nomination.

The Center for Media and Democracy will file a lawsuit on
Tuesday in an Oklahoma court against Scott Pruitt, who is the
state’s attorney general as well as Trump’s nominee to become
the top U.S. environmental regulator.

The group wants to force Pruitt to respond to nine
open-records requests dating to January 2015 to publish emails
between his office and energy companies. Pruitt’s office has
received more than four dozen similar requests from other
groups.

The lawsuit accuses Pruitt of violating the state’s Open
Records Act by failing to release those emails to the public.

“His inaction denies the public ‘prompt and reasonable’
access to public documents and violates Oklahoma’s Open Records
Act,” said Robert Nelon, a first amendment lawyer with Hall
Estill, who is representing the Center for Media and Democracy along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The media watchdog’s first request sought access to more
than 3,000 emails. Pruitt’s office has not told the group how
many records it has identified for the other eight requests it
has pending.

“We are doing this because these emails should be released
so that people can properly vet his record before the Senate
votes to confirm him,” said Nick Surgey, the center’s director
of research.

Pruitt, 48, sued the agency he intends to run 14 times on
behalf of Oklahoma to weaken or gut its key regulations, earning
him strong support from energy companies and Republican
lawmakers who have accused the Obama administration’s EPA of
regulatory overreach.

On Thursday, the Senate environment committee approved
Pruitt despite a boycott of his nomination by the panel’s
Democratic members. The full Senate, which is under Republican
control, is expected to confirm him but has not set a date for
the vote.

The lawsuit submitted on Tuesday calls on the court to stop
Pruitt from denying access to requested public records and to
prevent his office from destroying any documents relevant to the
requests.

Surgey said Pruitt was seemingly unapologetic during the
confirmation hearings about his “strong relationships with
Oklahoma’s oil and gas companies” and that the public should be
aware his ties to the types of companies he would need to
regulate as EPA administrator.

Pruitt’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a
member of the Senate panel that held Pruitt’s hearing, accused
the nominee of stonewalling the request for information about
his relationships with industry.

“I hope this lawsuit forces Attorney General Pruitt to stop
the cover-up and disclose these emails immediately so the
American people know what conflicts of interest this nominee
has,” Whitehouse said in a statement to Reuters.



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