In oklahoma, critics say pruitt stalled pollution case after taking industry funds stateimpact oklahoma electricity projects in pakistan


Scott Pruitt, the current head of the Environmental Protection Agency, first came to national prominence back when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. In that role, he sued the agency he now runs 14 times, in a series of court cases alleging overreach by the federal government.

Environmentalists in Pruitt’s home state say Pruitt was much less aggressive when it came to enforcing Oklahoma’s environmental laws and going after polluters. An examination of Pruitt’s record on environmental issues in Oklahoma shows that Pruitt’s positions were often more in line with business and industry than with environmentalists.

As EPA administrator, Pruitt has aggressively pursued an agenda to roll back Obama-era regulations on vehicle emissions standards, water quality and the climate. Pruitt has also said that he believes the science behind climate change should be up for debate.

Environmentalists in Oklahoma say Pruitt’s current push for deregulation is a clear continuation of a pattern established when he was the state’s attorney general. And they say a prime example of that pattern was a big fight over cleaning up the Illinois River. Eastern Oklahoma, where water is like oil

In Eastern Oklahoma, the culture and the economy run on the environment. This part of the state doesn’t look like the stereotype many people have of Oklahoma. Instead of sun-baked prairies and industry tractors, think forests and rivers — kayaks and trout fishing.

“I know enough people that have told stories about [how] they could stand in the water up to their stomach and look and see they can see their feet clearly,” says Denise Deason-Toyne of the environmental nonprofit Save The Illinois River. “And just imagine how beautiful that would be.”

Environmentalists attribute the degradation of the water to pollution from two main sources: wastewater treatment plants up the river in nearby Arkansas; and the large number of commercial poultry-growing operations throughout the Oklahoma-Arkansas border region.

“The amount of chicken houses in some locations is just overwhelming,” says Deason-Toyne. “And each one of those holds several hundred if not thousands of birds. So you imagine you’ve got someone with 2,000 chickens and the amount of chicken litter they’ve got.”

Poultry litter includes bedding, feed and feathers from the bottom of chicken houses, but the main problem that the litter presents for the river is chicken manure, which contains phosphorus and E. coli. Phosphorus, in particular, helps fuel the harmful algae blooms. (Human waste also contains phosphorus.)

Oklahoma and Arkansas have fought for decades over pollution in the Illinois River watershed, and the fight even reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 1992 decision, the court held that upstream states like Arkansas have to adhere to the water quality standards of downstream states like Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s then-attorney general, Democrat Drew Edmondson, was known for prioritizing environmental cases, and he set up an Environmental Protection Unit at the office to pursue polluters. The unit included four attorneys as well as a criminal investigator with a background in engineering.

During the campaign, Pruitt received at least $40,000 in campaign donations from people associated with the poultry industry. It included donations from company top executives at the time, including the vice president of Tyson Foods, the company’s CEO and general counsel, as well as attorneys associated with the defendants in the poultry case. In all, approximately 4 percent of Pruitt’s campaign funds came from sources linked to the chicken industry, according to the New York Times.

In an emailed statement to NPR, Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson wrote, “Our employees are encouraged to participate in the election process of public officials at all levels, and are at liberty to make personal contributions to any campaign as they see fit.”