Journalists, environmentalists, and transparency advocates for months have pressed the Environmental Protection Agency administrator for details about his whereabouts. Starting next week, he’ll begin doing exactly that, with daily reports about whom he’s meeting with and where he’s going. He’ll also release copies of his schedule from the day he was sworn in in February to the present.
This information comes from Christopher Creech, who works in the EPA’s General Counsel’s office, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request I filed more than five months ago. Creech said the EPA decided to begin releasing Pruitt’s schedule because of “public interest”—i.e., the agency got a lot of FOIA requests for it. Indeed, if you search “Pruitt” and “schedule” on the FOIA website, 54 requests come up, including ones from Politico, CNN, the Center for Public Integrity, Reuters, ThinkProgress, Gizmodo, E&E News, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, ABC News, CBS News, Bloomberg, and BuzzFeed.
One reason reporters have been so interested in Pruitt’s schedule is precisely because he hasn’t made it public, which is not normal for an EPA administrator. President Barack Obama’s EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, publicly listed all “meetings attended by advocates, stakeholders, elected officials, and others outside the Agency.” She also did this for her deputy, and every assistant and regional administrator across the agency. These schedules weren’t always comprehensive—they did not list meetings with other EPA officials, for example, and on many days no events were listed. But they were something. Creech confirmed that Pruitt’s schedules would be similar to McCarthy’s. “Administrator Pruitt’s schedule will be an abbreviated version, and won’t include personal appointments or logistics,” he said. “There will be more detail than what’s been posted in the past.”
The other, more important reason reporters are interested in Pruitt’s schedule is because it can show exactly whom he considers a priority when it comes to environmental protection. When snippets of his schedule have been released, it’s been eye-opening: E&E News reporter Kevin Bogardus got his hands on one month’s worth of the administrator’s schedule in June, and discovered Pruitt had spent large amounts of time with fossil fuel and chemical industry representatives and very little time with environmental advocates.
Creech acknowledged that FOIA requests played a role, but said that the EPA ultimately wanted to serve the public interest. “It’s openness and transparency,” he said. “We do want to demonstrate that that’s what we’re committed to.” Better late than never, I suppose.