The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the government organization we’re expected to trust to protect and maintain a strong and healthy environment. However, like many other government institutions, their goals become clouded and their positions swayed by outside parties.
The latest example comes from the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, whose emails have revealed his close relationships to the oil and gas industry. Dated from when he served as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, the emails were withheld during Pruitt’s EPA confirmation hearing by the State Attorney General’s office, which submitted 7,500 pages of emails to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) Tuesday night.
Correspondance Regarding Methane Regulation
An email from the Deputy Solicitor General in April 2013 discusses a letter with representatives at Devon Energy, an oil and natural gas exploration and production company, regarding proposed regulations of methane emissions. To be clear, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and harms both the environment and human health, yet Pruitt and other staff members were deliberating on how to advise the EPA on methane regulations.
In May 2013, Pruitt’s office finalized the letter to the EPA, suggesting that the agency avoid regulating methane emissions, but not without the help of Devon Energy. The letter clearly stated that voluntary industry efforts were enough, that the federal emissions estimates were wrong, and that regulating methane was unnecessary.
“In sum,” the letter reads, “regulation of methane emissions from oil and gas facilities is not ‘appropriate’ under the analysis contemplated by [the Clean Air Act].”
If it sounds less like it was coming from environmental advocates, and more like it was written by the very corporations that stand to profit off methane emissions, there’s good reason for that.
A Deputy Solicitor General in Pruitt’s office sent a note to Devon Energy executive Bill Whitsitt asking, “Any suggestions?” The email included a draft of the letter regarding methane emissions the office was planning to send to the EPA.
“Here you go,” Whitsitt replied, with the revised letter attached. “Please note that you could use just the red changes, or both red and blue (the latter being some further improvements from one of our experts) or none.”
“I sent the letter today,” the Deputy Solicitor General responded. “Thanks for all your help on this.” (source)
In regards to the released emails, Devon Energy Spokesperson John Porretto told The Intercept:
Our engagement with Scott Pruitt as Attorney General of Oklahoma is consistent — and proportionate — with our commitment to engage in conversations with policymakers on a broad range of matters,” adding, “We have a clear obligation to our shareholders and others to be involved in these discussions related to job growth, economic growth and domestic energy. It is important that we give full consideration to policymaker requests for information and expertise on industry issues. It would be indefensible for us to not be engaged in these important issues.
This clearly proves that Devon Energy has played a significant role in influencing laws and EPA rulings, and they weren’t the only company to do so. There are tons of other emails proving just how close their relationship was, discussing social outings and more between their offices and other organizations like the Petroleum Club and Koch Industries. Pruitt’s staff also held close ties to the oil and gas lobby group American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), as they discussed regulations on ozone limits and the Renewable Fuel Standard Program.
It wasn’t until May 2016 that the Obama administration’s EPA actually implemented stricter rules on methane emissions; however, only three months later, Pruitt joined a lawsuit opposing the regulations.
Pruitt’s Ties to ALEC
The emails show Pruitt responding to an invitation for dinner at the governor’s mansion with the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He was also a featured speaker at an ALEC conference held in Oklahoma City in May 2013, as he participated in a panel called “Embracing American Energy Opportunities: From Wellheads to Pipelines.”
Simply put, ALEC is a conservative group comprised of state legislators and corporate leaders that allows corporations to help write, or in some cases, just hand over legislation that the “official lawmakers” can then take credit for and formally propose.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) conducted an investigation on the group and found that 98% of ALEC’s funding comes from private sources other than state legislators, meaning ALEC is almost exclusively funded by global corporations like Exxon Mobil. Legislators pay a yearly membership fee of $50, whereas corporations pay anywhere between $7,000 to $25,000 annually. Corporations and other special interest groups have paid anywhere from 50 times to 500 times more than lawmakers to guarantee their spot in ALEC, since the ultimate payoff is far greater for them.
This is not the first time ALEC has tried to alter environmental regulations, and it won’t be the last. They have succeeded time and time again in changing or even creating legislation, which you can read about in our CE article here.
Perhaps the most disturbing of them all was the ALEC-backed Animal and Ecological Terrorism in America bill, otherwise known as an “ag-gag” bill, a term coined in 2011 that refers to state legislation that forbids the act of undercover filming or photographing activities on farms. It’s hardly surprising that the people who profit from factory farms and the environmental degradation associated with them would try to prevent people from exposing the cruelty that takes place there.
They even claimed that taking pictures on livestock farms can “defame the facility or its owner,” which is ironic considering they torture and kill animals every day; how great can their reputations really be? Additionally, ALEC proposed that violators be placed on a “terrorist registry.” This seems like a ridiculous and immoral way to spend taxpayers dollars, enforcing a rule that would prevent people from actually doing the “right thing.”
Let’s keep in mind that this bill also directly pertains to methane regulations, as cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day. Animal farming accounts for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions; the fact that the head of the EPA has ties to ALEC is great cause for concern (source).
Yet, somehow, the Senators voted 52 to 46 confirming Pruitt, the Oklahoma Attorney General with ties to ALEC and the fossil fuel industry who has focused his career on suing to block the EPA’s environmental regulations, as the individual who will run the EPA.
What’s worse is that Oklahoma has suffered a great deal as a result of this man’s work as Attorney General, and he was just rewarded for it. Over the past eight years, earthquakes in Oklahoma have increased by approximately 4,000 percent, an astonishing shift that experts attribute to fracking.
If anything, all of this serves as a reminder that it’s our duty to fight for the environment. We shouldn’t be referring to the Earth as “our environment,” because it’s not our land to claim. Society tends to have this possessive outlook on land, as if we have any right to claim ownership over it.
The Earth is a collective of consciousness that manifested itself into a planet with the intention to house life. We should be grateful for that and be treating it accordingly. You wouldn’t destroy your own house, so why are we supporting the destruction of the environment, which literally houses all of us?
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