Already in the middle of a legal battle over Oklahoma’s failure to release public documents about the Tar Creek Superfund site, the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability has gone to federal court against the EPA to force it to release the records.
The suit stems from the state’s refusal, first by former Attorney General Scott Pruitt followed by current Attorney General Mike Hunter, to release an audit of spending by a task force on buyouts of homes and businesses in towns around the Superfund site. The 2014 audit by State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones suggested criminal wrongdoing. First Pruitt, as AG before becoming EPA Administrator, then Hunter refused to prosecute and also refused to release the audit carried out by Jones.
“First, Scott Pruitt and his cronies covered up evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing at a Superfund site, and now they’re trying to cover their tracks,” said Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability in an announcement.
“Okahomans deserve to learn who profited from the Tar Creek cleanup process. What are Scott Pruitt and Mike Hunter so desperate to hide?”
“As both Oklahoma Attorney General and EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt has fought tooth and nail to prevent the public from knowing the truth about what happened with the Tar Creek buyback program,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “Tar Creek started as an environmental tragedy, morphed into a criminal scandal, and is turning out as a political cover-up.”
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and seeks records from EPA regarding the Tar Creek site and ongoing efforts by Oklahoma officials to suppress the audit report. EPA failed to adequately respond to two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests submitted by CfA in February, one regarding emails and other communications between Pruitt’s EPA office and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office as well as communications within EPA related to Tar Creek, and the other seeking communications between EPA employees involved in the Tar Creek audit.
The suit is CfA’s latest action in its effort to uncover the facts behind the controversial buyback program in Tar Creek. In November 2017, CfA filed a separate lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court to force the release of the audit after Attorney General Hunter rejected CfA’s Oklahoma Public Records Act request and prevented the state auditor’s office from releasing the report. In response to CfA’s lawsuit, State Auditor Gary Jones revealed that Pruitt had previously released the audit to the subject of the investigation. Nevertheless, Hunter has refused to publicly release the audit. Oklahoma Judge Patricia Parrish denied the attorney general’s motion to dismiss CfA’s case, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.
In 2011, then-Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt tasked State Auditor Jones with investigating the buyback program after then-Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) sent Pruitt a long list of allegations regarding the program. After a two year inquiry, Jones sent the final report —which showed evidence of criminal wrongdoing, according to court documents obtained by The Oklahoman—to Pruitt in 2014. Pruitt sat on the audit for over a year, then in 2015 announced he would not bring charges against any parties.