A trove of email correspondence from Scott Pruitt’s scheduler reveals details about the EPA administrator’s approach to climate policy.
Specific mentions of climate change and greenhouse gas regulations were scant in over 10,000 pages of emails with Millan Hupp, director of scheduling and advance at EPA. But the documents—obtained by the Sierra Club through the Freedom of Information Act—show how the administrator and his staff approached discussions about climate and deregulation and how he engaged with critics of the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement.
Here are a few highlights from the EPA emails:
Pruitt planned to make a trip to Australia last August that was canceled as Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas. Just as with similar foreign travels, the planned trip to Australia involved significant outside input.
Emails show Matthew Freedman, CEO of Global Impact Inc., corresponded extensively with Hupp about the planned trip, offering suggestions on everything from official talking points on EPA policy to potential restaurant recommendations. Freedman is also treasurer of the American Australian Council, a group whose members include Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips. He worked on planning the trip with Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast Corp. lobbyist linked with another Pruitt trip to Morocco (Greenwire, May 4).
“I think it is important to play both offense and defense. Offense to move forward the Agenda from the Administrator, and defense in terms of a ‘risk mitigation’ strategy to address in a proactive manner critics from whatever perspective,” Freedman wrote.
He appeared especially concerned about making sure Pruitt at least would give the appearance of listening to his critics.
“The trip will undoubtedly turn to issues where the Administration differs from the current Aus government—climate change is but one issue, but there is no reason not to have informed and thoughtful discussion. It allows both parties to address critics, and to move on,” Freedman wrote on July 6 to Hupp.
In a later email, Freedman noted that climate change would not be part of the agenda, but Pruitt should still prepare a response to questions on the topic.
“Climate will not be on the agenda except it come up and we need to be able to say that we ’agree to disagree’ as good friends. I suggested to the Embassy that Victorian Minister for Innovation and Trade [Philip Dalidakis] be included on their side since having him at the table would be good.”
Freedman also suggested that the trip should have a theme of environmental cooperation between the United States and Australia that would focus on innovation and “doing much more with less.”
“The US press has made it sound like less money equals less commitment so changing the dynamic would be useful,” he wrote.
Freedman’s tips also extended to sightseeing and restaurant recommendations in the Sydney area. He recommended a water taxi ride to breakfast at the Boathouse on the Circular Quay and dinner at a “traditional German place” in The Rocks, a tourist neighborhood in Sydney. Potential excursions to the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmania, however, would take too long for this specific trip, he added.
Freedman’s involvement in planning even led staff at the U.S. Embassy in Australia to send Pruitt’s draft schedule directly to him.
“I’ve received an updated/more detailed draft schedule from the Embassy but reminded them that I’m simply providing input to you and that all the normal decision-making processes and communications need to remain in place, and that my only role is to provide informal input and suggestions to decision-makers,” he wrote.
Clean Power Plan
On March 13, 2017, Pruitt spoke before 250 energy executives at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Washington, D.C., at a closed-press event hosted by the utility trade group Edison Electric Institute. The event occurred just a month after Pruitt took over EPA, and the talking points for the event presaged many of the messages he would continue to push over the next year, as The New York Times first reported.
An outline of the planned remarks prepared by the administrator’s adviser, Lincoln Ferguson, show Pruitt would focus in part on industry’s progress in cutting emissions and its upcoming actions on the Clean Power Plan, and would tout the agency’s return to rule of law.
“Opportunity is knocking, and new leadership in the White House and EPA will answer,” the remarks read.
The emails obtained by the Sierra Club also show Pruitt traveled to Union Pacific Corp.’s headquarters in Omaha, Neb., to talk about deregulation.
On Oct. 20 last year, Pruitt met with a small group of the company’s executives to talk about the Clean Power Plan, along with the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. rule, a Railroad Ties Combustion Rule and permitting reform.
The railroad company is indirectly affected by regulations on the power sector, as it ships coal across the country.
The attendees of the October meeting included Lance Fritz, CEO of Union Pacific; Cameron Scott, executive vice president and chief operating officer; Scott Moore, senior vice president of corporate relations; and Mike Rock, vice president of external relations, who coordinated the meeting.
“Our folks will be coming back from a field visit so they won’t be in coat and tie—just FYI,” Rock wrote to Hupp.
The emails also contain correspondence between EPA official Tate Bennett and Rick Curtsinger, director of public affairs for Wyoming-based coal company Cloud Peak Energy Inc., about Pruitt’s planned participation in an Aug. 3 event at Cloud Peak Energy’s Broomfield, Colo., office.
Cloud Peak opposed environmental restrictions imposed on coal and coal-fired power during the Obama administration, but before President Trump announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on June 1, the company urged him to stay in the deal.
Curtsinger drew Bennett’s attention to that position in emails in July, referencing an April letter to Trump echoing a message from Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who argued that U.S. companies might benefit from remaining in the accord with a laxer emissions commitment.
“We strongly support the approach outlined in Representative Cramer’s letter and believe it promotes a prosperity-focused approach to addressing climate concerns,” Colin Marshall, Cloud Peak’s president and CEO, wrote in the April letter to Trump. Rollbacks to Obama-era rules had already fulfilled Trump’s campaign pledges on Paris, he argued.
In addition to mentioning the letter on Paris, Curtsinger laid out a list of regulatory policies affecting coal producers, including the Clean Power Plan.
By the time Pruitt visited Broomfield, Trump had already announced the Paris withdrawal, a move Pruitt had pushed for.
‘Red-team blue-team’ debate
In July, EPA received a request for the administrator to meet with Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. It was unclear from the email who was requesting the introductory meeting with Pruitt.
Cass has argued that recent research overstates the risk of climate change and doesn’t take into account human adaptability.
An email from Cass’ “friend and co-author” strongly suggested Pruitt meet with Cass to discuss how the administrator would structure a “red-team blue-team”-style debate on climate science. Cass wanted EPA to focus on the baseline emissions being used to project future potential emissions of greenhouse gases, according to the email.
“[T]his is a huge shortcoming of current science and is being badly mischaracterized/misused. An EPA analysis of it would be hugely valuable. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you meet Oren soon,” the email read.
When reached by E&E News, Cass declined to comment about his meeting with Pruitt, saying it was an off-the-record conversation. He referred questions to EPA. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporter Jean Chemnick contributed.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.