Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is tasked with dismantling the EPA in secret. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

By David Roberts
14 August 2017

(Vox) – The New York Times had a big story on Friday about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s propensity to operate in secret. It offers a detailed and damning review of the evidence, but it stops short of drawing the broader conclusion: namely, that the approach of serving industry under cover of secrecy is not idiosyncratic to Pruitt, nor is it distinctively Trumpian. Rather, it is the standard approach of today’s GOP, as reflected in such recent initiatives as the failed health care bill. It is, in fact, the only approach possible to advance an agenda that is unpopular and intellectually indefensible.

Before painting that bigger picture, though, let’s look more closely at Pruitt’s brief but memorable stint at the EPA so far.

Pruitt is radically remaking the EPA, mostly in secret

Things got off to an inauspicious start in February, when a story at E&E revealed that Pruitt was requesting a full-time, around-the-clock security detail — not the first act of a man confident in his agenda.

The Golden Padlock Award: Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2013 launched a new award - dubbed the Golden Padlock - recognizing the most secretive publicly-funded agency or person in the United States. the winner in 2017 was EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Photo: IREIn May, the New Republic’s Emily Atkin, noting Pruitt’s refusal to meet with media or make his schedule public, asked, “What is Scott Pruitt hiding?” Another story in May found that political leadership at the EPA had begun “occasionally inserting new data and other information into public statements without final review from career policy specialists,” data and information officials inside EPA describe as “misleading and incompatible with extensive agency research.” Another covered Pruitt firing several scientists from the agency’s science review board, planning to replace them with people more sympathetic to industry.

An AP story in June uncovered an email record showing that Pruitt coordinated tightly with fossil fuel groups as attorney general in Oklahoma. E&E revealed that Pruitt’s calendar in his early weeks at EPA was filled with meetings with energy executives (though he met with no environmentalists).

A story in July showed that Pruitt is rolling back regulations “without the input of the 15,000 career employees at the agency he heads.” Instead, the Times’s Coral Davenport writes, “Pruitt has outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general.” Another noted that he had traveled back home to Oklahoma — where he hopes to run for Senate — 10 times in his first three months, huddling with industry allies from his AG days.

Also in July, Rolling Stone ran a long expose by Jeff Goodell that focused on, among other things, Pruitt’s secrecy.

Except for his victory lap after Paris, he mostly avoids mainstream media. (Pruitt's office refused numerous requests to interview him for this story.) And despite his often-professed belief in "the rule of law," he has steadfastly resisted and evaded Freedom of Information Act requests for e-mail records and other public documents. He's so good at operating in the shadows, in fact, that he was recently given the Golden Padlock Award by investigative journalists, which recognizes the most secretive publicly funded person or agency in the United States.

Here’s the Golden Padlock Award, which a group of investigative reporters and editors gave to Pruitt for “steadfastly refusing to provide emails in the public interest and removing information from public websites about key environmental programs.” [more]

Scott Pruitt is dismantling EPA in secret for the same reason the GOP health care bill was secret

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