By Nick Cahill, Courthouse News
(CN) – Accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of withholding ethics documents regarding its chief Scott Pruitt (pictured above), California’s attorney general on Friday sued the regulator for failing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has joined several other lawsuits against the EPA since President Donald Trump took office, says the regulator refuses to hand over requested information detailing Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest.
Becerra said Pruitt and the Trump administration are “not above the law.”
“The EPA is legally required to respond to our FOIA request,” Becerra said in a statement. “The public has a right to know whether Administrator Pruitt and the EPA have complied with federal ethics laws.”
Becerra filed his FOIA request on April 7, requesting records concerning the vetting process the EPA used to determine Pruitt was in compliance with federal ethics regulations. The attorney general says the EPA has missed several deadlines and has not provided the state with a single document.
Filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, the 9-page complaint says the public has a right to examine the “appearance of lack of impartiality” by Pruitt.
Pruitt was a vocal critic of the EPA while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. He sued or joined several actions against the EPA, including a challenge to President Barack Obama’s Clean Energy Plan.
Trump’s December 2016 appointment of Pruitt, a Republican, drew harsh criticism from Democrats and environmentalists. He’s known as a climate-change denier and has been accused by critics of working closely with the oil industry to roll back Oklahoma’s environmental regulations.
In May, the EPA said Pruitt would recuse himself from cases against the EPA that he filed while Oklahoma attorney general. But Becerra claims the EPA’s memo doesn’t preclude Pruitt from participating in and making regulatory decisions regarding laws he’s sued over.
The EPA didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Becerra wants a federal judge to force the EPA to comply with the FOIA request and hand over documents – including Pruitt’s communications regarding current climate change laws.
“Upon his swearing in at EPA, Administrator Pruitt became the head of the agency responsible for implementing the very same rules that he had been working to overturn just moments earlier,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Pruitt’s public attacks on the legal and factual justification EPA provided for many rules, including his filing of lawsuits seeking to invalidate them while Oklahoma attorney general, raise a question regarding his ability to participate in administrative processes and rulemakings.”
Under Becerra, California has joined efforts to stall the EPA’s effort to delay the implementation of air quality control standards as well as Trump’s reviews of national monuments and marine sanctuaries.