Two days after Devon Energy contributed $125,000 to a national association that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt helps lead, Pruitt wrote a letter to the EPA protesting its proposal to study the impact of fracking, records show.
For its contribution on March 31, Devon, an Oklahoma City-based Fortune 500 company, qualified for the highest level of access offered by the Republican Attorneys General Association at its four annual conferences.
The association frequently works behind the scenes to defeat federal regulations, including those affecting the energy industry. Pruitt is a two-time past chairman of the association and now serves on its executive committee.
The close relationship between energy companies, including Devon, and Pruitt's office was featured in a front-page investigative story in Sunday's New York Times. The Times story included a copy of a draft letter written by Devon in 2011 accusing the EPA of vastly overstating methane pollution caused by natural gas drilling in Oklahoma.
The draft was written by Devon's attorneys and sent to Pruitt's office by the company's top lobbyist.
'There are businesses in Oklahoma that are important to the state, but your client is the people of the state of Oklahoma. It may be good for the business, but the most important question is: Is this the best course for the people of the state?'
Drew Edmondson, former attorney general
Pruitt signed the letter and sent it, with few changes, to the EPA on state letterhead, records show.
Apparently Devon was pleased with the results, according to records obtained by the World.
"Outstanding!" wrote Bill Whitsitt, executive vice president for public affairs, in an email to Crystal Drwenski, then Pruitt's chief of staff. "The timing of the letter is great.... Please pass Devon's thanks to Attorney General Pruitt."
In an email to the World on Monday, Pruitt said the Times article "did not accurately reflect what motivates my service and how we seek to make decisions on advancing these cases."
"Our responsibility is to protect Oklahoma's interest when any federal agency seeks to displace the authority granted to the state under federal law. This administration has given us plenty of opportunity to litigate those matters in regards to energy, the environment, and health care and that is what is driving us, nothing more or nothing less."
Pruitt has formed a "federalism unit" in his office and has filed at least six lawsuits challenging various federal regulations, including energy regulations.
"It should come as no surprise that I am working diligently with Oklahoma energy companies, the people of Oklahoma and the majority of attorneys general to fight the unlawful overreach of the EPA and other federal agencies," Pruitt's statement says.
John Porretto, Devon's manager of media relations, said in an email Monday that the company often serves "as a resource with useful information and expertise for decision-makers." He said the company has "a clear obligation to our shareholders and others to be involved in these discussions."
"Our engagement with attorneys general is consistent — and proportionate — with our commitment to engage in conversations with policymakers on a broad range of matters that promote jobs, economic growth and a robust domestic energy sector," Porretto's statement says.
Numerous emails between Devon's top officials and Pruitt's office show how engaged the company was in partnering with Pruitt to defeat proposed energy regulations affecting its bottom line.
In an email sent to several Pruitt staff members last year, Whitsitt discussed setting up a conference call with officials at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management who were considering new rules on hydraulic fracturing — or fracking. He attached a draft letter for Pruitt to submit to the agency.
"The attached draft letter (or something like it that Scott is comfortable talking from and sending to the acting director to whom the letter is addressed) could be the basis for the meeting or call," Whitsitt's email states.
The Times story also focused on the role of the Republican Attorneys General Association in partnering with special interests affected by federal regulations. The association is an issue advocacy group that is allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence public policy.
The Republican Attorneys General Association raised at least $7.4 million in the 2014 election cycle, according to the Center for Public Integrity's website, opensecrets.org. Among its top contributors are Koch Industries, $129,000; Devon Energy Production, $125,000; and Exxon Mobil, $60,000.
The association hosts four conferences each year, and top-tier donors such as Devon receive access to dinners, retreats and "club-only events" with Pruitt and other GOP attorneys general from across the country.
The RAGA also received $25,000 from Continental Resources, an independent oil company based in Oklahoma City. The contribution was made March 31, the same date Devon made its contribution and two days before Pruitt's letter was sent to the EPA.
Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson said Monday that while in office, he opposed efforts of attorneys general to form such fund-raising groups. Democratic attorneys general formed their own alliance after the RAGA was formed, he said.
"All of us spend time raising money for our own races, but raising hundreds of thousands, even millions, from special interests — and both sides do it now — I just still have a big problem with that."
Edmondson said he was not passing judgment on the actions of Pruitt or other attorneys general. He said companies want attorneys general to send letters to regulators on their behalf because "it carries more weight."
"There are businesses in Oklahoma that are important to the state, but your client is the people of the state of Oklahoma. It may be good for the business, but the most important question is: Is this the best course for the people of the state?"
Angela Spotts, a spokeswoman for a citizens group called Stop Fracking Payne County, questioned whether the attorney general's work on behalf of the energy industry should be done using state resources. Spotts spoke at a legislative hearing about the impact on citizens and their property of earthquakes that might be linked to fracking.
"I think it's time for my elected officials to represent us and protect us. I don't think they are doing that," she said. "I am concerned as a lifelong Oklahoman. I understand the industry, but I'm more concerned about my environment, my health and my life."
Since 2012, the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma of magnitude 3 or greater has grown tenfold, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Some geologists in the state have said research suggests the increase in seismic activity is due to the deep injection of wastewater associated with the rapid growth of oil and gas production.
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365