OTG Condemns EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for Undermining Open Government and Keeping his Work Shielded from Public View

January 3, 2018

Pruitt has Spent More Time Protecting Government Secrecy than he has the Environment

WASHINGTON -- Open the Government assailed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt today for displaying a pervasive pattern of secrecy that is undermining rules that ensure good government. Pruitt’s penchant for privacy, at the expense of transparency and accountability, are deeply troubling, and OTG calls on him to provide greater public access to his agency’s work in 2018.

“It seems like Scott Pruitt has spent more time protecting secrets than the environment,” said Open the Government’s Executive Director Lisa Rosenberg. “Pruitt is toxic to transparency and the Poster Boy for secretive government. We urge the EPA administrator to change course in 2018, and begin to champion openness and accountability, because he is supposed to answer to the people, not hide from them.”

The Washington Post recently described Pruitt by saying he “operates in a cocoon of sorts,” including the installation of a $25,000 soundproof phone booth in his office that he uses to call the White House.

In an effort to skirt open records laws, Pruitt has frequently avoided using email. He has refused to provide ordinary details about his schedule that were routinely offered by past EPA leaders. Often, the public and the media are in the dark about where he will appear – a blow to transparency that keeps citizens from knowing about an agency that is designed to protect families from the harmful effects of pollution and dangerous chemicals.

“To a stunning degree, Scott Pruitt has avoided accountability and undermined openness, which are pillars of a healthy democracy,” said OTG’s Lisa Rosenberg. “This is the antithesis of good government and the opposite of what we have come to expect from honest and responsible public officials.”

As outlined by The Washington Post, Pruitt’s assault on government transparency and enthusiasm for government secrecy includes

  • Denying the organization Earthjustice access to a session in May with state officials about how the EPA planned to give the state more authority over storing toxic coal ash. Pruitt’s EPA also denied the group access to a draft of a 247-page guidance document. Other organizations have reported similar restrictions to information.
  • In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from a public watchdog group, government lawyers said Pruitt’s Superfund Task Force took no minutes of its meetings.
  • Dismantling information on the EPA’s website about climate change. According to the New York Times, “terms like ‘greenhouse gases,’ ‘carbon’ and ‘climate change’ have been replaced by vague descriptors like ‘sustainability’ and ‘emissions.’

“An EPA administrator who conceals his work, hides his schedule, avoids records laws, and erases key parts of his agency’s website has created the wrong kind of environment for ensuring good governance,” said OTG’s Lisa Rosenberg.

Open the Government is an inclusive, nonpartisan coalition that works to strengthen our democracy and empower the public by advancing policies that create a more open, accountable, and responsive government.