July 30, 2020 Oklahoma, Press Releases

Watchdog Releases Emails Showing Former EPA Chief of Staff Leaked Inspector General Report to News Outlets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 30, 2020

Contact: Michael Clauw, mclauw@campaignforaccountability.org, 202.780.5750  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, released emails from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealing that former chief of staff Ryan Jackson sent reporters an “OFFICIAL USE ONLY” summary of an EPA Inspector General investigation into allegations of wrongdoing at the Tar Creek Superfund site in Oklahoma. CfA obtained the emails through a FOIA lawsuit, represented by American Oversight. 

Click here to view the documents. 

CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Top officials at the EPA deliberately leaked an Inspector General report to journalists in Oklahoma to improve Scott Pruitt’s reputation.  As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt had failed to investigate serious allegations of criminal wrongdoing at the Tar Creek site.  These emails show that Pruitt’s chief of staff dug up an old IG report and delivered it to reporters to improve his boss’s image in his home state.  Rather than drain the swamp, Donald Trump repeatedly has employed grifters like Pruitt and Jackson, who have used government resources to enhance their own reputations.” 

Since 2017, CfA has been investigating the cover up of allegations of criminal wrongdoing at the  Tar Creek Superfund site. For decades, the area was harmed by destructive mining practices.  In 2006, state and federal legislators created an expanded Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust (LICRAT) to buy out affected homeowners.  The program was supposed to help residents relocate, but it was marred by allegations of corruption and favoritism.

The Oklahoma State Auditor later investigated the buyout program and found evidence of criminal wrongdoing.  The State Auditor reported his findings to Pruitt in January 2014, but – without explanation – Pruitt rejected the findings and declined to bring criminal charges.  Pruitt then denied the State Auditor’s request to publicly release the audit.  CfA, through a lawsuit, eventually forced Pruitt’s successor, Mike Hunter, to agree to release the audit.

Click here to read more about CfA’s lawsuit to obtain the Tar Creek audit. 

During this same period – in January 2013 – the EPA IG initiated an investigation of LICRAT after two whistleblowers filed a lawsuit alleging misconduct at the agency.  The IG investigator failed to find evidence of misconduct.  Although the report is marked “RESTRICTED INFORMATION” and “FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY,” in February 2018, Jackson sent it to reporters in Oklahoma.  Four days later, the Tulsa World published an article about the report but said it “obtained a copy through a third party.”  Jackson was not named in the story.  The emails also show that Jackson tried to arrange for someone in the IG’s office to speak to the Tulsa World on the record, which, based on the published story, does not appear to have happened.

Beyond the leak of the IG report, the emails also show how EPA officials coordinated with outside allies to shape public opinion of Pruitt’s management of the agency. For instance, in April 2018, an aide for Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) sent an email to the Deputy Associate Administrator for Congressional Affairs at the EPA, Aaron Ringel, stating that he planned to use Rep. Mullin’s time at an upcoming hearing to “steer the questioning to highlight some of the good stuff EPA is doing in Oklahoma like with Tar Creek and the Illinois River.” He asked the EPA to provide information to inform Rep. Mullin’s questions.  Mr. Ringel then directed his colleagues to “look into anything we can send.”   

Mr. Stevens continued, “Oklahoma officials and the EPA failed to adequately relocate the families affected by mining at the Tar Creek Superfund site and millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted, but no one has been held accountable.  Rather than seriously investigate the matter, Scott Pruitt and his allies have instead leaked reports to the media to cover their tracks.  It’s time for state and federal officials to come clean about what happened at Tar Creek.” 

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.