(Adds that suit has been filed, statement from Pruitt's office)
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON Feb 7 A media watchdog group filed
suit on Tuesday to force U.S. President Donald Trump's pick to
head the Environmental Protection Agency to release records
detailing his communications with energy companies ahead of a
Senate vote to confirm his nomination.
The lawsuit was filed in Oklahoma court by the Center for
Media and Democracy and accuses Scott Pruitt, who is Oklahoma's
attorney general as well as Trump's nominee to become the top
U.S. environmental regulator, of violating the state's Open
Records Act by failing to release those emails to the public.
It also seeks to force him to respond to nine open-records
requests dating to January 2015 to publish emails between his
office and energy companies. Pruitt's office has received more
than four dozen similar requests from other groups.
"His inaction denies the public 'prompt and reasonable'
access to public documents and violates Oklahoma's Open Records
Act," said Robert Nelon, a first amendment lawyer with Hall
Estill, the law firm representing the Center for Media and
Democracy along with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The media watchdog's first request sought access to more
than 3,000 emails. Pruitt's office has not told the group how
many records it has identified for the other eight requests it
"We are doing this because these emails should be released
so that people can properly vet his record before the Senate
votes to confirm him," said Nick Surgey, the center's director
Pruitt, 48, sued the agency he intends to run 14 times on
behalf of Oklahoma to weaken or gut its key regulations, earning
him strong support from energy companies and Republican
lawmakers who have accused the Obama administration's EPA of
On Thursday, the Senate environment committee approved
Pruitt despite a boycott of his nomination by the panel's
Democratic members. The full Senate, which is under Republican
control, is expected to confirm him but has not set a date for
The lawsuit submitted on Tuesday calls on the court to stop
Pruitt from denying access to requested public records and to
prevent his office from destroying any documents relevant to the
Surgey said Pruitt was seemingly unapologetic during the
confirmation hearings about his "strong relationships with
Oklahoma's oil and gas companies" and that the public should be
aware his ties to the types of companies he would need to
regulate as EPA administrator.
Pruitt's office said it had contacted the Center for Media
and Democracy last week to inform the group that "release of
their request was imminent."
"The fact that they have now filed suit despite our ongoing
communications demonstrates that this is nothing more than
political theater," Lincoln Ferguson, the attorney general's
press secretary said in a statement. "The office of attorney
general remains committed to fulfilling both the letter and
spirit of the Open Records Act.”
Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a
member of the Senate panel that held Pruitt's hearing, accused
the nominee of stonewalling the request for information about
his relationships with industry.
"I hope this lawsuit forces Attorney General Pruitt to stop
the cover-up and disclose these emails immediately so the
American people know what conflicts of interest this nominee
has,” Whitehouse said in a statement to Reuters.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and