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State government

California sues EPA for documents to determine whether Administrator Scott Pruitt has conflict of interest

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks in Washington on Feb. 21. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks in Washington on Feb. 21. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra on Friday filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleging it failed to comply with a request for documents that might indicate whether agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has a conflict of interest.

The lawsuit in federal court in Washington seeks an order to force the EPA to turn over the documents.

Pruitt has stated that he would recuse himself from some cases in which he had sued the EPA while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, but a memo released by the agency indicated that Pruitt might not abstain from EPA rulemaking on the same issues that are the subject of his litigation.

Becerra used the Freedom of Information Act to request documents involving the issues on which potential conflicts could exist, but said the papers have not been provided.

“Administrator Pruitt and the Trump Administration are not above the law,” Becerra said in a statement.  “The public has a right to know whether Administrator Pruitt and the EPA have complied with federal ethics laws."

The agency recognizes Freedom of Information Act as an important tool for the public to find out what is going on inside the government, and its staff is working “as quickly as possible” to respond to the many public requests for documents they have received, said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman.

She said the staff has twice told Becerra’s office that they are working on the expansive request.

“It’s unfortunate that California is suing the Agency, draining resources that could be better spent protecting human health and the environment — rather than working with EPA’s career staff, as they can gather all the information requested,” Bowman said.

Becerra said a close examination of Pruitt is justified, "now that he has taken a direct role in initiating review of numerous EPA regulations he sought to undo while serving as Oklahoma’s Attorney General for six years." 

3:10 pm This article was updated to include a response from EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman.

This article was originally published at 1:21 p.m.

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