The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New EPA head told Congress he never used personal email for government business. But it turns out he did.

Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, occasionally used private email to communicate with staff while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, despite telling Congress that he always used a state email account for government business. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Placeholder while article actions load

Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t the only Trump Cabinet official being pressed to explain omissions in congressional testimony at his confirmation hearing.

An environmental group and several Democratic senators are demanding a review of the personal email account of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, after he said during confirmation hearings that he never used that account for official business as Oklahoma state attorney general.

When asked whether he had ever used a private email account while on the job, Pruitt told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: “I use only my official OAG [office of the attorney general] email address and government-issued phone to conduct official business.”

Yet several of Pruitt’s official emails, released in a lawsuit in Oklahoma, were copied to his personal email — an Apple account that was partially blacked out before being released.

“Lo and behold, the documents Scott Pruitt wanted to keep hidden have confirmed our suspicion that he used his personal email address to conduct official state business and that he was not honest with the Senate about this during his confirmation process,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Whitehouse, who has championed the need to address climate change, called Pruitt “the polluters’ tool.”

The emails copied to Pruitt’s personal account included ones from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed group that focuses on state legislatures; the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which has substantial interests in EPA issues; and members of Pruitt’s staff.

The Pruitt email flap dates back to a request on Jan. 5, 2015, by the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group, for access to then-Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt’s email official records under the state’s Open Records Act. An Oklahoma county judge, Aletia Timmons, ordered the release of the emails two years later, criticizing “an abject failure to provide prompt and reasonable access to documents.”

The Center for Media and Democracy raised the issue Feb. 13 when it looked at the initial bunch of 411 emails released by the state attorney general’s office. Since then, more documents have been released showing other examples of Pruitt being copied on his personal email.

In one, Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, then vice president of strategic initiatives at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, urges Pruitt to side with her group’s oil refiners against the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard, a rule which requires blending renewable fuels into gasoline. After describing and enclosing her group’s petition that the EPA waive certain requirements, Lyle says “AFPM remains very interested in the prospect of your state filing a similar waiver request highlighting the environmental harm caused by the RFS mandate which we discussed previously.”

A note from an ALEC official dealt with arrangements for Pruitt to speak at an ALEC convention.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, Lincoln Ferguson, did not reply to a request for comment Thursday. But he told Oklahoma’s Fox News affiliate earlier that attorneys within the office conducted a search of Pruitt’s personal email account and did not find any relevant documents that had not been produced in the search of his official email accounts.

The CMD initially filed nine requests for documents. In response to the first request, it received about 8,700 pages; about 1,600 more pages are being held back by the attorney general’s office and probably will be reviewed by the county judge. The judge had also ordered the release of documents related to five of the requests by March 3, but the state Supreme Court has issued a temporary stay. The county judge is weighing three more requests.

“Pruitt has been caught misleading the Senate about his use of personal email for state business,” Nick Surgey, the Center for Media and Democracy’s research director, said in a statement. “The public has a right to know what else Pruitt is trying to hide, and the Center for Media and Democracy will keep fighting for the whole truth to be brought into the light.”

In an interview, Surgey added that “Pruitt refused to answer a lot of the questions put to him. This was a question he did answer and it looks as though he may have misled the Senate about the use of his personal email.”

At his confirmation hearing, President-elect Trump's Environmental Protection Agency administrator nominee Scott Pruitt outlined his plan for the agency. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

More from Energy and Environment:

White House eyes plan to cut EPA staff by one-fifth, eliminating key programs

Humans have caused an explosion of never-before-seen minerals all over the Earth

Antarctic ice has set an unexpected record, and scientists are struggling to figure out why

For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here and follow us on Twitter here.