Special Topics in Environmental Management

EPA Administrator Pruitt Quizzed on Conflict-of-Interest

Given that as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he led a legal challenge against the Clean Power Plan (CPP), is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt ethically qualified to undertake an objective review of the rule?

The answer to that question should not be left to Pruitt, note the Democratic members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW); rather the matter needs to be resolved by Kevin Minoli, EPA’s Designated Agency Ethics Officer (DAEO). Moreover, in conjunction with his nomination hearing before the EPW, Pruitt agreed that, for a 1-year period, he would seek authorization from the DAEO in EPA matters in which Oklahoma is a party. Absent such authorization, he said he would recuse himself from such matters. In an April 7, 2017, letter, the Democrats asked if Pruitt has requested that Minoli make an authorization decision regarding the CPP, what that decision is, and, if authorization has not been requested, why not?

FR Notice and Motion

The Senators are concerned that Pruitt may have already violated his agreement regarding the DAEO. Specifically, on March 28, 2017, the day President Donald Trump issued his Executive Order on Energy Independence—which directed a review of the CPP—Pruitt took two significant actions. First, he signed a Federal Register (FR) Notice of Review of the CPP. Second, he filed a motion to hold cases in abeyance in West Virginia v. EPA et al. (DC Circuit, 15-1363), the very case in which he represented Oklahoma in the challenge to the CPP. Moreover, 2 days later, Pruitt send a letter to 47 governors, providing a legal interpretation of the effects of the Supreme Court’s stay of the CPP while litigation advances.

“We believe you are required to have secured authorization from the [EPA’s DAEO] to participate in these matters,” wrote the Senators. “We seek your written confirmation that such authorization has been granted, or that you will recuse yourself from these matters going forward.”

Transfer of Authority

Pruitt’s agreement with the EPW Democrats does allow him to appoint another Agency official to act in his stead in the event it is determined that Pruitt has a conflicted interest in an EPA matter. But, as of the date of the letter, the senators were not aware of any action by Pruitt to transfer his administrator functions to another individual.

The letter requests that Pruitt provide answers to six questions. In addition to whether Pruitt has received authorization to continue to lead the Agency’s review of the CPP, the senators ask if authorization has been provided with restrictions. They also ask if Pruitt has received a waiver to participate in any other EPA matters involving actions taken by the state of Oklahoma. The letter requested that Pruitt provide answers by April 21, 2017. As of this writing, there have been no reports that Pruitt has provided the Democrats with responses to their questions.

The letter is here.