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Scott PruittDonald 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.

Freedom Partners has been described as a "dark money umbrella group," likened to a secret bank that disburses contributions from wealthy conservatives.

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.

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."

With a climate change denying White House and cabinet taking shape, there's not much environmentalists are excited about these days. But a new report from Politico indicates that our ever-warming planet might have an unlikely defender: Ivanka Trump.

Future First Daughter Ivanka Trump.Flickr

A source told the publication that the future First Daughter plans to "speak out" about climate change and make it one of her "signature issues." As Politico reports:

"Ivanka wants to make climate change—which her father has called a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese—one of her signature issues, a source close to her told Politico. The source said Ivanka is in the early stages of exploring how to use her spotlight to speak out on the issue."

Donald Trump's election stands to overturn President Obama's environmental legacy—just when the environment desperately needs a well-positioned champion. The president-elect plans to renege the Paris climate deal, axe the Clean Power Plan and other environmental regulations, and embrace the Right's "drill, baby, drill" ethos.

Not only that, Trump has climate change denier Myron Ebell leading his transition team at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and his latest cabinet picks, including Elaine Chao for secretary of transportation and frack-happy Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin as the frontrunner for the Interior secretary position, is just more good news for the fossil fuel industry.

"The issues she's talking about are ones she's always talked about," the source elaborated to Politico. "These are totally consistent with what she's developed with her brand. She is playing a critical role in being able to have issues that moderate and liberal women care about—and creating a bridge to the other side."

So does that mean Ivanka actually wants to act on climate change? Once upon a time, the Trump family actually believed in climate science and urged "aggressive" action.

Or, as New York Magazine surmised, does Ivanka just sense climate change as another branding opportunity? After all, she once hawked "sustainable bridal jewelry made from conflict-free diamonds and recycled platinum and gold" with prices ranging from $3,500 to $130,000, according to Ecouterre.

"As a young luxury brand I believe we have the opportunity and the responsibility to look into the multitude of ways we can build ourselves into a truly socially engaged and responsible company," she told WWD in 2011 about the jewelry line.

There are many reasons why going green is good for business and for the planet, but claiming to have environmental, health or safety standards is different than actually living by them. Otherwise that's just greenwashing. Let's not forget that items from Ivanka's top-selling clothing line are manufactured in China and Vietnam, countries under the spotlight for poor working conditions and human rights abuse, as the Independent noted.

In response to Politico's story, Greenpeace spokesperson Travis Nichols said, "It's absolutely necessary for someone to talk climate sense to Trump, but talking a good game [...] isn't the same as taking action."

We fear that Donald Trump's presidential reign could be a disaster for the planet. As Nichols explained, "Trump's transition team and cabinet of millionaires remain among the worst climate denying fossil fuel industry shills we've seen from the Republican party, and Trump himself hasn't laid out any concrete plans to deal with this massive global problem."

"From the start of Trump's presidential run we've seen his team use Ivanka to soften her father's most egregious positions, and there's no reason to think this isn't part of the same plan," Nichols continued. "Even if Trump can afford to protect his family from climate change, the rest of America cannot afford that luxury. Trump will have to take direct, executive climate action before anyone should think of him as any different from the climate disasters like Myron Ebell he surrounds himself with."

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In an afternoon meeting, Donald Trump and his transition team reportedly worked to quickly identify top candidates for key energy positions in his administration.

Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm, who yesterday advised Trump to "just scrap" Obama's energy industry regulations, is considered a leading contender for Secretary of Energy.

According to Politico:

Hamm, an Oklahoma billionaire who has been a friend of Trump's for years, has been the leading influence on Trump's energy policy during the campaign. If Hamm passes, venture capitalist Robert Grady is also seen as a top candidate, though he could also be in line for Interior.

Forrest Lucas, the 74-year-old co-founder of oil products firm Lucas Oil, is favored as a top choice to lead the Department of the Interior.

However, according to Politico:

Trump's presidential transition team is also eyeing venture capitalist Robert Grady, a George H.W. Bush White House official with ties to Chris Christie. And Trump's son Donald Trump Jr., is said to be interested in the job.

Meanwhile, a person who spoke to the Trump campaign told POLITICO that the aides have also discussed tapping Sarah Palin for Interior Secretary. Trump has said he'd like to put Palin in his cabinet, and Palin has made no secret of her interest.

Other possible candidates include former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer; Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin; Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis; and Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm.

Sarah Palin / Harold Hamm

Although Trump has previously said he would abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reports say he will instead ask climate skeptic Myron Ebell to lead the agency. In September, Trump said he will "refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans."

According to Politico:

Ebell, who is running the EPA working group on Trump's transition team, is an official at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and has come under fire from environmental groups for his stances on global warming. Venture capitalist Robert Grady is also a contender.

Other potential candidates: Joe Aiello, director of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Environmental Safety and Quality Assurance; Carol Comer, the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, who was appointed by Pence; and Leslie Rutledge, attorney general of Arkansas and a lead challenger of EPA regulations in the state.

"Contrary to president-elect Donald Trump's populist message during his campaign, Trump is trying to stack his administration with industry executives and fossil fuel barons who will make life worse for everyone but themselves," Greenpeace USA climate liability attorney Naomi Ages said. "These people will undoubtedly advocate for corporate interests that benefit only those at the top and continue to leave the rest of us behind, including the working class.

"'Environmental protection' will take backseat to 'corporate protection' with Myron Ebell as head of the EPA, 'drill, baby, drill' will ring across this country with Sarah Palin in the Interior Department, and Harold Hamm's oil would flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline and so many others if he were Energy Secretary."

For a deeper dive:

Politico, Fuel Fix, Politico Pro, Forbes, CNN, New York Magazine, USA Today, Greenwire, Pacific Standard

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

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