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Scott Pruitt denies he meets with ‘polluters’ as his agency dismantles environmental safeguards

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In an interview on Friday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told Time that he doesn’t spend time with “polluters,” even though almost all of his meetings since taking over as the nation’s top environmental cop have been with officials from oil, coal, and other pollution-producing companies.

Pruitt referred to these companies — as well as ranchers and farmers — as “stakeholders” with whom he hopes to partner. For the companies that he deems polluters, the EPA chief said his mission is to “prosecute” them, not “spend any time” with them. “What I’m spending time with are stakeholders who care about outcomes,” he told the outlet.

The facts don’t back up Pruitt’s claim. On March 20, for example, Pruitt met with the president and chairman of BP, the company at the center of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The following day, he met with the president and the chairman and CEO of Chevron, the company that agreed to pay more than $180,000 in civil penalties for 26 air pollution violations at its oil refinery in Richmond, California.

Looking at the total number of environmental enforcement cases brought by the Trump administration from January through the end of July, compared to the beginning of the past three presidential administrations, environmental enforcement under Trump is also noticeably less frequent — and far less harsh — than previous administrations.

In total, the Trump administration has collected 60 percent less in civil penalties from polluters than the past three administrations over the same period of time, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.

Upon arrival at the agency, the new EPA administrator pledged a back-to-basics philosophy. That shift in agency priorities, however, appears to be geared toward letting polluting industries off the hook at the expense of cleaner air and water for Americans.

Over the first two months of his time as administrator, Pruitt did not meet with any environmental groups. E&E News obtained Pruitt’s schedule in a Freedom of Information Act request. The news organization noted that on Earth Day (April 22), the EPA put out a press release saying that Pruitt had met with the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society. That date range was not covered in the FOIA response.

The EPA cannot police the entire country, according to Pruitt. That’s why he believes it is important to partner with industry and other members of the regulated community. “There aren’t enough people that this agency can hire to stand on every corner in this country to look over the shoulder of all these companies and say do this or do that,” he told Time.

As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt also maintained a close relationship with polluting industries, particularly the oil and gas industry. In 2014, the New York Times broke a story showing that Pruitt had taken a letter written by Devon Energy lawyers and sent it to the EPA on state letterhead, essentially acting as an official voice for one of his state’s biggest polluters. Devon Energy is a major natural gas producer based in Oklahoma City.

Since taking over as EPA administrator, Pruitt has also met with top executives from Southern Co., which owns one of the largest fleets of coal-fired power plants. He has had meals with the board of directors of Alliance Resources Partners, a major coal company whose CEO donated almost $2 million to Trump’s presidential campaign.

During his first two weeks in office, Pruitt also met with the president of Shell Oil. In 2013, Shell offered to pay $90 million to residents of Carson, California for widespread soil contamination. The houses in the Carson neighborhood were built in the 1960s, directly on top of a former Shell oil tank farm that had been buried.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that many of these companies “have high-profile matters pending before the agency, with potentially hundreds of dollars in regulatory costs at stake.”

Pruitt’s decision to meet with these industry officials has surprised few in the environmental community. Even before he was sworn in as administrator, League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski noted,”Scott Pruitt running the EPA is like the fox guarding the henhouse.”

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