Reporter On New Email Dump That Reveals Secret Inner Workings Of The EPA
May 9, 20182:05 PM ET
Heard on Fresh Air
New York Times reporter Eric Lipton says the response to a recent FOIA request shows that Scott Pruitt and his staff have gone to great lengths to keep the public and the news media at a distance.
ERIC LIPTON: One after another, Scott Pruitt has gone after the Obama-era regulations intended to clean the nation’s air and water and to limit the pace of climate change, and he’s been eliminating them – at least, attempting to. And so for Trump, you know, it’s hard to think about getting rid of a guy who is really executing on your strategy perhaps more effectively than any other member of the Cabinet.
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LIPTON: Well, for example, he was going in August to Nevada, Iowa, to meet with a cattle rancher and to talk about his intention to roll back a Obama-era program that’s supposed to protect drinking water supplies. It’s called Waters of the U.S. And so Pruitt is in the process of repealing that regulation, and farmers did not like it because it was going to restrict their ability to work some of their land, potentially. So he went to this place where the cattle ranches worked. And it was supposed to be what they call invite-only press, which means you pick certain reporters who you know are friendly, you invite them and you don’t tell anyone else.
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LIPTON: I actually have in front of me here a copy of his agenda from that trip, which was June 8 through June 10 of 2017. And we just got this full agenda last week through the Freedom of Information Act. And so what it shows you when you look at it is that while he spent just on the airfare alone $16,000 – and The Washington Post has added up numbers. I haven’t actually done this myself – to say that they think that the trip costs about $100,000. But what the agenda shows you is that most of the time that he was in Italy on the ground, he was actually sightseeing. He visited the Vatican Library. He visited the palace for a whole afternoon. Another part of the – he went to an underground area in the Vatican, which is very hard to get a tour of. He had dinner at La Terrazza – at a restaurant at the Hotel Eden, which is one of the most expensive restaurants in Rome. He had dinner at another restaurant called Al Ceppo.
He had that dinner with Leonard Leo who is the head of the Federalist Society, which is a group that’s working with other anti-regulatory groups to try to get reductions in Obama-era regulations and get judges appointed to federal courts. He had dinner there at Al Ceppo with Leonard Leo, and Leonard Leo paid for that dinner. And only after The New York Times asked about whether or not Leonard Leo paid for that dinner – because we’d heard that he had – did the agency tell us that Pruitt had reimbursed Leonard Leo for that dinner. And so, I mean, again, what the agenda tells us from that trip is that most of the time, he was sightseeing. And then among the meetings he actually had – as I literally sit here and page through it – was one meeting that he had is – he met with a bunch of executives from major United States chemical companies, like Chemours and DuPont and 3M. But these are the Italian executives of their affiliates in Italy. He had a roundtable with business leaders on environmental innovation at the Embassy of the United States in Rome. And then he also met with the charge d’affaires at the Embassy of the United States, and he met with some officials from the Vatican. But for the most part, he was sightseeing.
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LIPTON: I was writing about state attorneys general and what I perceived as their conflicts of interest as they were taking millions of dollars in contributions from companies that they were investigating – pharmaceutical companies, auto companies and, you know, across the board, food companies. And as I began to investigate the state attorneys general – because at the time, I was writing about lobbying out of Washington – and I saw that the – that corporations were beginning to lobby attorneys general more. I saw that there were a great number of energy companies that were contributing a lot of money as well. And when I began to investigate which attorneys general they were most focused on, I found Scott Pruitt. And it was just a matter of me sort of saying, well, who’s the guy who they go to the most to challenge the Obama regulatory rule?
So what Devon Energy, for example – which was an Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company – was doing, it was turning to Scott Pruitt to try to challenge Obama’s rules. And they would hand Scott Pruitt drafts of letters that they wanted him to send to Lisa Jackson at the EPA or to the Department of Interior or even to President Obama. And Scott Pruitt took those letters and essentially put them on the Oklahoma attorney general stationery, signed them and sent them in.
And he was – had become, you know, essentially a lobbyist on behalf of the oil and gas companies in Oklahoma at the same time as he was the top law enforcement official. And he was the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from these same companies to help get other Republicans elected as attorneys general. So that was a story that I wrote in 2014, and that’s when I first met Scott Pruitt.