Two Senate Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s staff withheld documents and scrubbed calendars to hide interactions with coal executive Bob Murray and other power brokers.
Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) filed the request yesterday with the EPA Office of Inspector General. IG spokeswoman Jennifer Kaplan confirmed the letter was received by the agency watchdog.
"The practices that we have observed at best show a breakdown of internal EPA procedures for reviewing agency records when responding to congressional oversight requests, sloppy management of the Administrator’s Outlook calendar, and improper use of [Freedom of Information Act] redactions," the senators wrote.
"At worst, they demonstrate an intent to mislead Congress and the public by concealing meetings of interest on the Administrator’s calendar and concealing documents unless ordered by a court to disclose them."
EPA did not respond to a request for comment.
The letter cited an E&E News report this week about documents obtained from the Department of Energy via FOIA (Greenwire, June 6). Among the records from March 2017 were two documents addressed to Pruitt.
One was the "action plan" that Murray Energy Corp. CEO Bob Murray distributed throughout the Trump administration. EPA officials late last year denied that EPA had received Murray’s deregulatory wish list after two separate requests from Carper and Whitehouse to hand over a copy of the plan (Greenwire, Nov. 10, 2017).
The other document obtained from DOE was a letter to Pruitt containing six executive orders written by Murray that were intended for President Trump to sign.
In November, EPA told Carper and Whitehouse that a search of all agency emails failed to find any mention of the "action plan." When Whitehouse followed up in January, EPA again said it found no records associated with the plan.
Emails recently revealed by a Sierra Club FOIA request show Pruitt’s staff had scheduled a meeting with Murray for March 29, 2017. That was the same day Murray gave his action plan to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and the same day emergency crews broke down the door of Pruitt’s Capitol Hill apartment believing he was unconscious inside (Greenwire, May 10).
Pruitt’s calendar, obtained via FOIA by E&E News, shows the Murray meeting scheduled for the following day. Murray has confirmed that he met with Pruitt on March 30.
Carper and Whitehouse said other controversial meetings have been "scrubbed" from Pruitt’s calendar, including sit-downs with industrialist T. Boone Pickens and Catholic Cardinal George Pell.
Former EPA official Kevin Chmielewski told The New York Times that Pruitt staffers actively worked to conceal the meeting with Pell, who has been charged with sexual assault.
In their letter, Carper and Whitehouse raised questions about the calendars and FOIA requests being "subject to improper interference by political staff."
Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.