This story was updated at 8:54 p.m. EDT.
U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says he didn't mean to mislead lawmakers on his use of personal email for official business while Oklahoma attorney general.
In a letter yesterday obtained by E&E News, Pruitt told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that he wanted to supplement the record, although he stands by comments he made during confirmation hearings.
"I believe my original response to Senator Whitehouse's question for the record number 115 was and remains correct. But to prevent any possible confusion, I supplement my original response as follows," Pruitt said.
In Pruitt's initial comments to senators, included among his written responses to questions on numerous issues during his confirmation process, he said, "I use only my official OAG email address and government issued phone to conduct official business."
But press reports later accused him of using a private account for official business, apparently contradicting what he told lawmakers in writing.
Pruitt now says his response "was based on the best information available at the time and having only four days to complete approximately 1,100 written questions and subparts."
Pruitt called it his practice to conduct "official business" on state-provided email accounts but noted that under Oklahoma law, "political matters" must be done on personal email.
"That includes emails concerning political matters that may arguably also touch on state business," Pruitt said. "Elected officials oftentimes utilize a personal device so as to ensure that no state property is used to conduct political business, which is legally prohibited."
The EPA administrator also said, "I make my best efforts to ensure that communications related to state business are copied or otherwise provided to official state systems."
An EPA spokesman said today, "Administrator Pruitt stands by his responses given during the confirmation process, and hopes this additional step provides the clarity needed for those advancing a partisan agenda."
Mike Danylak, a spokesman for EPW Republicans, said committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) "appreciates Administrator Pruitt's update to his responses to questions for the record from his nomination hearing and his continued commitment to transparency and open government."
Pruitt joins another member of President Trump's Cabinet, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in clarifying his confirmation testimony. In March, Sessions said he had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States twice, despite saying during a hearing that he "did not have communications with the Russians."
Pruitt told lawmakers yesterday that "a complete and exhaustive review of my personal email account was undertaken." He said, "Based on this exhaustive review, I have determined that a small portion of those emails may relate to state business as that term is understood either generically or under Oklahoma's Open Records Act."
Pruitt said he has turned over those private emails. "With this in mind, and although not required to do so, I have made all of my personal emails available to the Oklahoma Attorney General's office, including those that have no possible connection to state business, for review in responding to pending Open Records Act requests," he said.
Democrats and administration critics seized on Pruitt's emails during his confirmation process. Records show he and his staff in Oklahoma had a close relationship with fossil fuel companies (Greenwire, Feb. 22).
"Administrator Pruitt's letter to the senators reiterates his commitment to transparency. He has gone above and beyond his requirement to comply with Oklahoma's Open Records Act by turning over all of his emails to the Oklahoma Attorney General's office," said the EPA spokesman.
Pruitt's missive came in a response to a March 17 letter from Democratic members on the EPW panel, asking him to "correct the record" on his testimony (E&E News PM, March 17).
Pruitt said that at EPA, he has a primary email account already set up and agency staff also have secondary accounts "that are used for calendaring, scheduling, and internal communications."
Pruitt said he "strongly discourages" the use of personal email for official business. If agency employees do use private email for work, they must forward those emails on to their official EPA email accounts.