Utah oil drillers won pollution break from Pruitt  Utah oil and gas producers tried for years to get the EPA to exempt them from smog rules meant to prevent ailments like asthma  They finally got their relief after Scott Pruitt took charge of the agency, newly released emails show  To groups opposed to President Donald Trump’s policies, the records are yet another sign that Pruitt has transformed an agency created to protect the environment into a tool for granting favors to industry They say that’s troubling even if it falls short of the overt collusion his critics have accused him of amid revelations about his ties to lobbyists who helped him arrange housing and travel  “The public is being shut out of the decisions that affect the air we all breathe while polluters have Pruitt at their beck and call whenever they ask to throw out a life-saving protection,” said Matt Gravatt, the associate legislative director at the Sierra Club, which obtained the emails in a lawsuit over a public records request  EPA’s aid for the oil and gas companies in Utah came after an industry lobbyist, Marc Himmelstein, a former American Petroleum Institute executive with longstandingconnections to top GOP fundraisers, enlisted help from another like-minded Republican, House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who has pushed legislation to promote oil and gas development and ease permitting requirements  Himmelstein coordinated a July 2017 phone call between the Utah lawmakers and Pruitt, offering specific talking points for Bishop to use, according to the records obtained in a lawsuit by the Sierra Club  EPA was set to declare that the tribal land in the Uinta Basin in Utah was not meeting standards for smog, or ozone pollution Once that happened, oil and gas producers wouldn’t be able to use a streamlined permitting process and would instead have to seek approval for each of the thousands of wells they aim to drill there Morning Energy newsletter The source for energy and environment news — weekday mornings, in your inbox By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters or alerts from POLITICO.

You can unsubscribe at any time  “We ask the Agency to develop a streamlined permitting solution for future development of the Basin,” Himmelstein’s talking points for Bishop said  In April, EPA proposed just that.  Himmelstein had also sent Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, marked-up regulatory text that he shared with Bishop to propose And he said EPA would receive a letter from the office of Republican Gov.

Gary Herbert Herbert, who is aiming to increase energy production in Utah, had been focused on the issue already and did convey the industry concerns to Pruitt in a letter last summer, his office confirmed  The governor’s letter of July 18, 2017, provided to POLITICO late Tuesday, nearly exactly matches the talking points and suggested regulatory text that the lobbyist gave Bishop and Jackson  Himmelstein is a longtime Washington lobbyist and president of the energy lobbying firm National Environmental Strategies, which was previously caught in an ethics controversy over its ties to a former Interior Department official He told Jackson he was working with QEP Resources Inc.

And Newfield Exploration Co , two of the biggest drillers in the region that includes the companies’ leases in the Uintah and Ouray Indian reservations  Himmelstein is also treasurer of the Conservative Leadership Alliance, a 501(c)(4) that spent $1 4 million on federal elections this year, according to OpenSecrets. And he is a lobbyist for FirstEnergy Solutions, which has been influential with the Trump administration in its bid to keep coal and nuclear plants online  Pruitt’s critics have long complained the former Oklahoma attorney general was too closely tied to the oil and gas industry Email records show senior staffers at EPA also exchange scores of messages with top lobbyists for the fossil fuel, agriculture and chemicals industries, and the newly released messages show the consideration top agency staffers gave to energy companies, who often complained that the Obama administration ignored their concerns  Oil and gas development has been blamed for contributing to northeastern Utah’s ozone pollution, which can affect people suffering from bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma A 2013 study of the area found that at least 98 percent of volatile organic compounds and 61 percent of nitrogen oxides — building blocks of ozone — come from oil and gas  Himmelstein and representatives for the two companies did not respond to requests for comment But Jackson told POLITICO that EPA was eager to help them because the Obama-era requirements would have unfairly limited oil and gas production on the tribal lands compared with other nearby operations  Jackson said the stricter permitting process for oil and gas companies in Utah would have been “entirely unnecessary and entirely unfair ” EPA is likely to pursue a broader rewrite of the rule, in addition to the carve-out for the Uinta Basin, he added  “Why are we disadvantaging Indian country?” he said, “That makes no sense.” Pruitt’s reading list from the public? ‘Global Warming for Dummies’  But Jackson has it backward, said Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund  “What’s unfair is asking people to continue to breathe unhealthy air that has consequences,” Goldstein said  While Himmelstein wanted EPA to remove the stipulation that drillers in any tribal areas that failed to meet ozone requirements must apply for source-by-source permits, EPA instead drafted an amendment specific to the Uinta basin  The amendment would provide a “permanent mechanism for streamlining construction authorizations” on the reservation, including in areas not meeting ozone standards, EPA’s fact sheet explains It notes that EPA is also working on a rule for the reservation to reduce ozone-forming emissions “while allowing continued development of its oil and natural gas resources ”  Himmelstein, who has long been acquainted with Jackson and met socially on several occasions with him last year, first emailed the EPA chief of staff and then-White House special assistant on energy Mike Catanzaro in June 2017 about setting up a meeting with the two companies  “We need your help,” Himmelstein wrote.

“The Uinta Basin in Northeast Utah (Rob Bishop’s district) is going to be listed as an ozone non-attainment area later this year It is a prolific oil and gas producing area that encompasses state, tribal and federal lands ”  Pruitt had agreed to meet with QEP when he spoke at the American Exploration and Production Council in late May, Himmelstein reminded in another exchange  Bishop’s spokesperson said the lawmaker’s phone call to Pruitt was part the Natural Resources Committee chairman’s efforts to press for changes in permitting and air quality rules in the Uinta Basin  “This is an issue that dates back many years.

The Chairman had numerous similar conversations with Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy The issue has not been resolved and Chairman Bishop continues to advocate for reasonable regulatory reforms that will protect and enhance the lives of the people of Utah’s first congressional district,” Bishop’s spokesperson said  Anthony Adragna contributed to this report..