Press Releases

In Light of Concerning Reports, Carper Demands Information from Pruitt on EPA’s Enforcement Actions

Ranking Member requests information and documents following reports of industry effort to reverse EPA progress enforcing air pollution standards under Pruitt’s watch

May 22 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, requested information from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt about the agency's enforcement record. The inquiry comes amid concerning reports that a major oil and gas producer backtracked on its willingness to address air pollution violations just days after Pruitt was sworn in as Administrator. 

On May 20, the New York Times reported that oil and gas producer Devon Energy, the target of an ongoing EPA enforcement action, reversed its willingness to address air pollution violations less than a week after Mr. Pruitt’s arrival as EPA Administrator. As Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt maintained a close and questionable relationship with Devon Energy. In 2011, Mr. Pruitt went so far as to send a nearly identical version of a letter drafted by Devon Energy on federal methane regulations to then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on his office’s letterhead. 

In the letter, Senator Carper reminded Mr. Pruitt that, during his confirmation hearing, he stated, “Clearly, the mission of the EPA, as I indicated in my opening statement, to protect our natural resources, protecting our water quality, improving our air, helping protect the health and welfare of our citizens, is key to the leadership of the EPA, and, where enforcement is necessary, vigorous enforcement.”

These reports also come just days before the release of President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal, which is expected to drastically cut EPA’s enforcement resources.

Senator Carper went on to note to Mr. Pruitt that “Allowing Devon Energy to back out of both a remedy to ‘improve our air’ and no longer be subject to ‘vigorous enforcement’ for violations of the Clean Air Act would seem inconsistent with the statements you made to the Environment and Public Works Committee - as would the 24 percent proposed cut to the 2018 OECA budget that is expected to be submitted to Congress next week.”

Senator Carper requested that Mr. Pruitt provide relevant documents and answers to specific questions by June 23, 2017 in order to understand whether his commitment to Congress regarding enforcement actions prior to his confirmation is consistent with actions he taken since assuming his new position. 

The text of the letter can be found below and in pdf form here:

May 20, 2017

The Honorable Scott Pruitt

Administrator

Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20460

 

Dear Administrator Pruitt:

 I write with concern and to request information regarding an article in today’s New York Times (How Rollbacks at Scott Pruitt’s E.P.A. Are a Boon to Oil and Gas”) that describes an abrupt reversal in willingness by Devon Energy to install technology to detect and reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants since you were sworn in as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

According to the article, Devon Energy had been in discussions to install technology that would address claims made by the Obama Administration EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance (OECA) that a site in Wyoming was “illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, like benzene, a known carcinogen,” and was also discussing the payment of a “six-figure penalty” to settle these claims.  However, five days after you became Administrator, Devon Energy sent a letter[1] stating that it would no longer install the technology, and was now “willing to pay closer to $25,000 to end the three-year-old federal investigation”.

During your confirmation hearing, you asked “What could be more important than protecting our Nation’s waters, improving our air, and managing the land that we have been blessed with as a Nation, all the while protecting the health and welfare of our people?[2]”  You additionally noted that “Clearly, the mission of the EPA, as I indicated in my opening statement, to protect our natural resources, protecting our water quality, improving our air, helping protect the health and welfare of our citizens, is key to the leadership of the EPA, and, where enforcement is necessary, vigorous enforcement.”  Allowing Devon Energy to back out of both a remedy to ‘improve our air’ and no longer be subject to ‘vigorous enforcement’ for violations of the Clean Air Act would seem inconsistent with the statements you made to the Environment and Public Works Committee - as would the 24 percent proposed cut[3] to the 2018 OECA budget that is expected to be submitted to Congress next week.

So that I can understand whether your commitment to Congress prior to your confirmation is consistent with actions taken since your confirmation occurred, I ask that you respond to the following questions and requests for information no later than close of business on Friday June 23, 2017:

  1. Please provide me with copies of all documents (including but not limited to emails, white papers, correspondence, memos, telephone logs, presentations and meeting minutes) related to any pending, prospective or contemplated enforcement action against or settlement with Devon Energy.
  1. For each year beginning with 2009, please provide me with the following information:
    1. The number of civil enforcement actions initiated by EPA;
    2. The number of criminal enforcement actions initiated by EPA;
    3. A list of each civil enforcement action that was concluded by EPA, including the name and location of the alleged violator/site, the type of violation, a description of the remedy (if any) and the amount of the penalty (if any); and
    4. A list of each criminal enforcement action that was concluded by EPA, including the name of the alleged violator/site, the type of violation, a description of the remedy (if any) and the amount of the penalty (if any).
  2. For each month since you became EPA Administrator (and for each month going forward), please provide me with the following information:
    1. The number of civil enforcement actions initiated by EPA;
    2. The number of criminal enforcement actions initiated by EPA;
    3. A list of each civil enforcement action that was concluded by EPA, including the name and location of the alleged violator/site, the type of violation, a description of the remedy (if any) and the amount of the penalty (if any); and
    4. A list of each criminal enforcement action that was concluded by EPA, including the name of the alleged violator/site, the type of violation, a description of the remedy (if any) and the amount of the penalty (if any).
  1. Please provide me with a detailed analysis of the impact of the proposed budget cuts for OECA on a) the number of people employed in the office, b) the number of enforcement and compliance inspections that the office will be able to carry out each year, c) the amount of the reductions in compliance assistance that can be provided to each state, and d) the number of enforcement actions that can be undertaken and concluded each year.

Thank you very much for your assistance with this important matter.

Sincerely, 

Tom Carper

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[2] https://www.epw.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/1291a5e0-b3aa-403d-8ce3-64cb2ef86851/spw-011817.pdf

[3] https://www.bna.com/states-weigh-impact-n57982087298/