OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Bar Association has opened an investigation into an ethics complaint against former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt, now administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a letter from the association's general counsel.
The complaint, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization that works to protect endangered species, and associate professor Kristen van de Biezenbos of the University of Oklahoma College of Law, says Pruitt may have violated the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct when he told a U.S. Senate committee at his confirmation hearings in January that he only used his attorney general's email address to conduct official business.
The complaint, dated March 21, says documents released by the attorney general's office through an Open Records Act lawsuit in Oklahoma seem to contradict Pruitt's sworn testimony and indicate Pruitt also used a personal email address to conduct official business.
"It appears that Mr. Pruitt misrepresented material facts that bore on the Senate committee's analysis of Mr. Pruitt's fitness to serve as EPA Administrator," the complaint states.
Emails and other documents released by the attorney general's office indicate Pruitt coordinated closely with fossil-fuel companies and special interest groups who worked to undermine federal efforts to curb planet-warming carbon emissions.
Democrats on the U.S. Senate committee that held the confirmation hearings have criticized Pruitt's close ties to the oil and gas industry. As Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt frequently sued the agency he now leads, including filing a multistate lawsuit against the EPA opposing the Obama administration's plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The Oklahoma Bar Association opened an investigation on Tuesday, according to a letter to van de Biezenbos from General Counsel Gina Hendryx. Among other things, Bar Association rules state "it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to ... engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation," according to the complaint.
On Thursday, neither the EPA nor Pruitt immediately responded to emails and phone calls seeking comment about the complaint.
Amy Atwood, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity who is based in Portland, Oregon, said the organization wants to know whether Pruitt misrepresented the truth during his Senate testimony, which would be in violation of Bar Association guidelines.
"That's one of the most important ethical rules that applies to lawyers," Atwood said. "I hope the investigation will help us all understand why Pruitt was so cagey about his communications with fossil-fuel interests."