Four Democratic senators have asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to explain why he told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing that he would examine the issue of collecting information from the oil and gas industry on methane emissions but then reversed course six weeks later.
The senators added that they shared concern with nine Democratic attorneys general (AG) that the decision to withdraw information collection requests (ICR) came three days after a convention of Republican AGs in Washington -- an event Pruitt allegedly spoke at -- concluded, and one day after he received a letter from nine AGs and two governors, all Republicans, advocating the withdrawal.
The withdrawal reversed a decision, enacted during the Obama administration, for EPA to request that oil and gas owners and operators provide additional information on methane emissions from existing equipment.
"We share the concern that your decision was made almost immediately following the receipt of input of members of the Republican Attorneys General Association [RAGA] -- a partisan organization you used to chair and from which you accepted political contributions -- but without the review of input submitted by other interested parties such as the Democratic AGs, and without the review of the ICR data already submitted by industry to EPA," Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote in a letter last week.
According to the senators' timeline, Pruitt pledged to "examine the submitted data to determine the appropriate next steps" regarding ICRs during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 18. After winning Senate confirmation to lead the EPA on Feb. 17, the senators allege that Pruitt attended and spoke at the RAGA convention on Feb. 26-27. He received the letter from the Republican AGs and governors on March 1, and EPA withdrew its request for ICRs on March 2.
"It is difficult for us to believe that in the two weeks between your confirmation and your withdrawal of the ICR, you followed through with the promise you made on Jan. 18," the senators said. "Instead, the timing...suggests that the 'submitted data' you received as EPA administrator may have consisted entirely of the letter from Republican officials claiming the ICR was 'an unnecessary and onerous burden on oil and gas producers.'"
The senators also alleged, based on reporting from the New York Times, that during Pruitt's previous tenure as Oklahoma AG his office regularly used data and talking points from the oil and gas industry and made them the official position of the state's government.
Nine Democratic AGs -- Xavier Becerra of California, Thomas Donovan Jr. of Vermont, Brian Frosh of Maryland, Maura Healy of Massachusetts, Peter Kilmartin of Rhode Island, Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Janet Mills of Maine, Karl Racine of the District of Columbia and Eric Schneiderman of New York -- wrote a separate letter to Pruitt on April 3. They blasted Pruitt for withdrawing ICRs "with no meaningful explanation, let alone a reasoned one."
In order to "dispel any appearance of impropriety," the senators asked Pruitt to respond to their concerns by May 7. They also want Pruitt to, among other things, explain how the letter from the aforementioned Democratic AGs would affect his decision to withdraw ICRs and to disclose his attendance and participation in RAGA events since taking the reins at the EPA.
The March 1 letter from Republicans was signed by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. It was also signed by AGs Mark Brnovich of Arizona, Tim Fox of Montana, Mike Hunter of Oklahoma, Jeff Landry of Louisiana, Steve Marshall of Alabama, Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, Derek Schmidt of Kansas, Ken Paxton of Texas and Alan Wilson of South Carolina.
Last November, the EPA issued a final ICR designed to obtain information and help the agency determine the best method for reducing methane and other emissions from existing oil and gas infrastructure. The final ICR was developed after the agency unveiled draft versionsin May and August of last year.
Organizations representing the oil and gas industry, including the GPA Midstream Association, had opposed the ICRs.