Scott Pruitt—Donald Trump's controversial pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—is under fire for his supposed ties to a nonprofit controlled by billionaire oil tycoons, Charles and David Koch.
Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump's nominee to head the EPA, has been known to parrot oil and gas industry talking points.Flickr
POLITICO has received a copy of a letter sent to Pruitt that was signed by six Democratic senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee. The letter raises questions about the Oklahoma attorney general's director status at a nonprofit called the Rule of Law Defense Fund that accepted $175,000 from Freedom Partners, the political arm of the Koch brothers' network.
The senators are requesting names of donors, meeting information, internal emails and other details related to Pruitt's leading role at the Defense Fund, according to POLITICO.
The letter was signed by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats.
As POLITICO noted, the Defense Fund is allowed to keep donors secret since it is organized under a special section of the tax code. However, in 2014, it received $175,000 from Freedom Partners.
The letter calls that contribution into question and said that Pruitt's work with the Defense Fund is "troubling," since he may be too close to the very fossil fuel companies he is supposed to regulate as Trump's EPA chief.
Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, 'Puppet of the Fossil Fuel Industry,' to Head EPA https://t.co/BC8ZCp8qc8 @GreenpeaceAustP @Green_Europe— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481287229.0
The Defense Fund is an offshoot of the Republican Attorneys General Association, itself a group that has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. A December 2014 New York Times exposé revealed an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" and coordination between Big Oil and the association.
Trump's appointment of Pruitt was met with unprecedented criticism by environmental and health organizations nationwide, being described as a "puppet" of the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, Pruitt was caught sending letters on state government letterheads to President Obama and federal agency heads asserting that the EPA was overestimating the air pollution from drilling for natural gas in Oklahoma. Turns out, the letter was written by lawyers for one of the state's largest oil and gas companies, Devon Energy.
According to POLITICO, the six senators are highlighting Pruitt's links to fossil fuel interests as part of a larger effort to turn moderate senators against his confirmation.
"The confirmation process, starting with your responses to committee questions before your hearing, is an opportunity for you to dispel the notion that the advocacy you have undertaken on environmental issues as Attorney General of Oklahoma has been directed by and for the benefit of the energy industry," the letter states.
As Oklahoma's top legal officer, Pruitt has waged numerous legal wars against the EPA and President Obama's environmental regulations, including the president's signature Clean Power Plan. Trump said Pruitt is "highly respected" and will counter the EPA's "anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs."
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Last week, Republican Kelly Ayotte narrowly lost her U.S Senate seat in New Hampshire to Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan. Although Hassan's victory is good news for the lone 48 Democratic Senators standing up to a Republican majority and President-elect Donald Trump, Ayotte's loss means that the GOP senators have one less member who believes that human activity causes climate change.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte lost her seat to Gov. Maggie Hassan in a closely-watched contest on Nov. 8.Flickr
Sen. Ayotte is no environmentalist, per se. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) gives her a dismal lifetime score of 35 percent for her environmental scorecard. However, as a Republican Senator who actually believes in climate change and one who voted in favor of President Obama's historic Clean Power Plan, she's somewhat of a unicorn.
Even though the majority of Americans accept the scientific consensus that climate change is real, a majority of Republicans in office do not. A report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund found that 59 percent of the House Republican caucus and 70 percent of Senate Republicans refuse to accept this reality.
Why? Let's follow the money. Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries have played an outsized role in opposing climate change legislation. Their deep-pocketed network has dumped wild sums of money on conservative causes and campaigns, with more than $88 million in traceable funding to groups attacking climate change science, policy and regulation.
So did Ayotte's against-the-grain views cost her a set of billionaire oil barons? The Intercept's Alleen Brown argues that the former incumbent's stance cost her millions in campaign funding.
See this graph from the Center for Responsive Politics:
"The New Hampshire race is the only one among eight considered to be the most competitive that has not benefited from outside spending from the most important Koch-affiliated organizations," Brown wrote.
Brown's article points out that the Koch's nonprofit Americans for Prosperity previously poured in $1.2 million in August on attack ads against Gov. Hassan but after Ayotte voted for the Clean Power Plan in October, the funds dried up.
The Kochs did not respond to The Intercept's request for comment but other reports indicate that the Koch's disagreement with Ayotte's various policy stances led to a fallout.
"She's bucked the party line by endorsing the president's Clean Power Plan, backing paid sick leave and giving same-sex couples full access to government benefits.
"While Ayotte has historically aligned with Americans for Prosperity, she has sharply broken with the Koch-backed outfit over the past six months over clean power regulations and reviving the Export-Import Bank. That's good for her brand as a Republican rooted in the party's center, but bad for her hopes of air cover from the conservative powerhouse."
Meanwhile, the senators and representatives who have voted in line with Koch-backed policies swam with donations and support for their campaigns.
Kochs Dump Trump to Fund Climate-Denying Senators in Ohio and Nevada https://t.co/LYmZ3EWGMW @KOCHexposed— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1467241811.0
For instance, for incumbent Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey's campaign, Koch-backed organizations spent more than $9 million for him to keep the seat. These organizations also allegedly used data to identify 600,000 unenthusiastic or undecided Republican-leaning voters and then deployed Americans for Prosperity volunteers to knock on those voters's doors.
Regardless, the Koch brothers are probably sitting happy following last week's surprise election results that clearly swung red.
Meanwhile, Ayotte's name is still in the hat. Rumor has it that Trump might tap her for Secretary of Defense. If she indeed secures the role, her views on climate change might be good news for our country's safety. Climate change, after all, is one of the gravest security threats we face.
President Obama: Climate Change Is an 'Immediate Risk to Our National Security' http://t.co/4eaaNrGyXz @climateinstitut @EUClimateAction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1432286713.0
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