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Ethics officials clear Trump EPA nominee

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal ethics officials have cleared President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency to be confirmed by the Senate.

The Office of Government Ethics on Monday released the personal financial disclosure report for Scott Pruitt, currently Oklahoma's attorney general. The ethics office affirmed that Pruitt's disclosures comply with applicable federal laws and rules.

No date has been set for Pruitt's Senate confirmation hearing.

His finances are among the least complicated of Trump's Cabinet nominees, a group that includes several billionaires. In just four pages, Pruitt disclosed an investment portfolio valued between $420,000 and $1 million, held primarily in mutual funds, bonds and a state retirement plan.

Pruitt, 48, also listed debt of between $500,000 and $1 million on a mortgage on his Oklahoma home.

Senate Democrats and environmental groups have criticized Pruitt for what they term cozy political ties with the oil and gas industry. Like Trump, Pruitt has also has also been a vocal denier of the science showing that the planet is warming and that man-made carbon emissions are to blame.

Pruitt, a Republican, has repeatedly sued the EPA since becoming attorney general in 2011. He joined with other Republican attorneys general in opposing the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt also sued over the agency's recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, which has been opposed by industries that would be forced to clean up polluted wastewater.

Though Pruitt ran unopposed for a second term in 2014, campaign finance reports show he raised more than $700,000, much of it from people in the energy and utility industries. Among those who gave the maximum contribution of $5,000 to Pruitt's campaign was Continental Resources Chairman and CEO Harold Hamm, an Oklahoma oil tycoon who has been advising Trump.

On his disclosure forms, Pruitt is also listed as chairman of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, a Washington-based tax-exempt organization founded in 2014. The group's website describes it as a public policy organization for the study of issues relevant to the nation's Republican attorneys general and to promote "the rule of law, federalism, and freedom in a civil society."

In a letter sent to an EPA ethics official last week, Pruitt said he has resigned from the group effective Dec. 8.

Pruitt is also listed on his disclosure form as a member of the boards for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and The Windows Ministry, a small Oklahoma City non-profit organization that describes its sole mission as "promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ."

In his letter to the EPA, Pruitt said he would also resign from those boards if he is confirmed to lead the agency.

Charlie Spies, an Oklahoma attorney for two political action committees tied to Pruitt said Monday he is in the process of filing the required paperwork with the Federal Election Commission required to dissolve them and distribute any remaining funds. Oklahoma Strong is Pruitt's leadership PAC to raise money for like-minded conservative candidates, while Liberty 2.0 was set up by Pruitt's supporters to support any future bids he might make for public office.

Spies said the political fundraising entities, which are likely to be criticized by Democrats for raising money from corporations and individuals who profit from fossil fuel production, have missions that are "no longer relevant."

"We don't want them to be a distraction during the confirmation hearings," Spies said.

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Associated Press writer Sean Murphy contributed from Oklahoma City.

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Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

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