Utah oil and gas producers tried for years to get the EPA to exempt them from smog rules meant to prevent ailments like asthma.
They finally got their relief after Scott Pruitt took charge of the agency, newly released emails show.
To groups opposed to President Donald Trump’s policies, the records are yet another sign that Pruitt has transformed an agency created to protect the environment into a tool for granting favors to industry. They say that’s troubling even if it falls short of the overt collusion his critics have accused him of amid revelations about his ties to lobbyists who helped him arrange housing and travel.
“The public is being shut out of the decisions that affect the air we all breathe while polluters have Pruitt at their beck and call whenever they ask to throw out a life-saving protection,” said Matt Gravatt, the associate legislative director at the Sierra Club, which obtained the emails in a lawsuit over a public records request.
EPA’s aid for the oil and gas companies in Utah came after an industry lobbyist, Marc Himmelstein, a former American Petroleum Institute executive with longstandingconnectionsto top GOP fundraisers, enlisted help from another like-minded Republican, House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who has pushed legislation to promote oil and gas development and ease permitting requirements.
Himmelstein coordinated a July 2017 phone call between the Utah lawmakers and Pruitt, offering specific talking points for Bishop to use, according to the records obtained in a lawsuit by the Sierra Club.
EPA was set to declare that the tribal land in the Uinta Basin in Utah was not meeting standards for smog, or ozone pollution. Once that happened, oil and gas producers wouldn’t be able to use a streamlined permitting process and would instead have to seek approval for each of the thousands of wells they aim to drill there.
“We ask the Agency to develop a streamlined permitting solution for future development of the Basin,” Himmelstein’s talking points for Bishop said.
In April, EPA proposed just that.