- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday delivered a win for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, halting the scheduled release of thousands of additional emails from Mr. Pruitt’s time as the state’s attorney general.

Earlier this month the attorney general’s office complied with a lower court’s order and made public more than 7,500 pages of emails. Many of them contained communications between Mr. Pruitt, his deputies and oil-and-gas companies.

Critics argue those documents proved the EPA chief is far too cozy with the fossil fuels sector, pointing to specific instances in which he coordinated with oil-and-gas firms in the effort to fight Obama-era environmental regulations.

Another massive email dump was scheduled for late this week in response to lawsuits from the watchdog group The Center for Media and Democracy.

But the Oklahoma attorney general’s office argued in court that it simply didn’t have time to review all the emails and compile them for public release.

“All those documents have to be manually reviewed … twice,” the state assistant attorney general, Dan Weitman, said in a court hearing Tuesday, adding that it took staffers more than 90 man-hours to put together the initial release.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed with that argument, and late Tuesday afternoon reversed the lower court’s order and issued an indefinite stay, keeping Mr. Pruitt’s emails under wraps for the foreseeable future.

“Enforcement of the trial court’s order … is stayed until further order from this court,” the state supreme court said in its ruling.

In a statement following the decision, The Center for Media and Democracy vowed to keep fighting, and said the emails already released prove that Mr. Pruitt is too closely tied to the energy sector.

“A small dose of sunlight has already shown a more deliberate hand-in-glove relationship between Scott Pruitt and the oil and gas industry than previously understood and proved that he used personal email on the job, contrary to what he told U.S. senators,” said center director Lisa Graves.

“Legal maneuvering and delay tactics will not distract us from unearthing what Pruitt is hiding from the American people. We’re confident we’ll win the case and obtain the thousands of emails the Oklahoma AG’s office is trying desperately to withhold,” she claimed.

In its statement, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office said the lower court’s order was unreasonable.

“Not only was this a patently unreasonable directive, but the AG’s office was not given the opportunity to respond to the petition. Our office is appreciative and encouraged by the court’s decision and welcomes the opportunity to present its case so that these records can be reviewed and provided in an orderly fashion,” spokesman Lincoln Ferguson said.

The initial batch of emails showed that Mr. Pruitt’s office worked with firms such as Oklahoma-based Devon Energy to fight Obama administration rules on fracking, among other things. The two sides co-drafted a letter that Mr. Pruitt ultimately sent to the administration in his capacity as attorney general.

Mr. Pruitt has admitted to working on behalf of the oil-and-gas sector, but said such actions were within his duties as Oklahoma attorney general.

Senate Democrats earlier this month tried to hold up Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation to head the EPA until all the emails were made public, but their efforts failed.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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