PBS Airs Anti-Pruitt Documentary Funded By Environmentalist Group Backer

Documentary paints Republicans as 'climate deniers,' 'extreme'

Scott Pruitt
Scott Pruitt / Getty Images
October 16, 2017

A new PBS Frontline documentary that paints Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt as a tool for the fossil fuel industry received major funding from a group that has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to environmentalist activists like the Sierra Club.

The documentary, "War on the EPA," received major support from the Kendeda Fund, an Atlanta-based nonprofit focused on the environment and sustainability.

The documentary features interviews with numerous Obama administration backers, including Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator, and Betsy Southerland, a former EPA director making $250,000 who claimed earlier this year she resigned in protest because of the Trump administration's budget. Southerland was eligible for early retirement and told coworkers she was retiring because of family issues.

Southerland tells PBS that Pruitt's EPA is a "clear and present danger to public health and safety in this country."

The documentary calls critics of the Obama administration's wide-ranging regulatory actions targeting the coal industry and nuclear power plants "climate deniers" and "extreme." The PBS narrator refers to Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) as "the Senate's leading climate change denier" and features Jane Mayer, a journalist with the New Yorker, calling the Trump EPA "radical."

"What you see now in the Trump administration is the triumph of the anti-environmental movement," Mayer says. "They are now in control of the government and in control of the regulatory process in a kind of a brazen way we haven't seen before."

Obama administration alums are depicted as crusaders against pollution, as they appear in interviews dismayed by President Trump and Pruitt following through on campaign promises to roll back environmental regulations.

Gina McCarthy said the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which was blocked by the Supreme Court and could have shrunk the coal industry by nearly half, was "disturbing."

Eric Schaeffer, a former EPA director of civil enforcement, called Pruitt's EPA a "hostile takeover" and a "political operation."

Jerry Taylor, a former fellow at the Cato Institute who now is in favor of a carbon tax, tells PBS the "conservative narrative" of a war on coal was "disconnected from reality."

PBS does not include clips in the documentary of Obama and Hillary Clinton discussing the coal industry. Obama said, "electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket" under his cap and trade plan, while Clinton boasted during a debate, "We are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."

PBS also interviews Eric Lipton of the New York Times, who was bothered by paintings in Pruitt's old attorney general office in Oklahoma that pictured sheriffs in the Old West and a Native American sheriff.

"When I first got to [Pruitt's] office, there were these large paintings on the wall," Lipton said. "It just struck me that this was the real Wild West, that we will dispense our own justice." The camera zoomed in on the painted gun in a holster, as ominous music played.

PBS also attempts to tie Pruitt to the Koch brothers and paints a picture of the administrator receiving dark money from oil and gas companies.

PBS says, "Much of the Koch's fortune came from oil and gas, and they would spend millions opposing Obama's initiatives."

The documentary received major funding from Kendeda, which in turn has donated to many liberal groups that lobby for climate change regulations. On its website, Kendeda encourages "activism that promotes solutions to the social and equity challenges caused by climate change."

Kendeda has donated to numerous environmentalist activist organizations, including: $70,000 to the Sierra Club, $50,000 to Earthjustice, $50,000 to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and $500,000 to the U.S. Climate Action Network in 2015.

A spokesperson for WGBH, which put on the documentary, told the Free Beacon that the Kendeda Fund did not directly fund the documentary.

"The Kendeda Fund provides support to many organizations and groups, including schools and military families, and they have provided funding to WGBH under their People, Place, and Planet program for use in a variety of WGBH programs," said Jeanne Hopkins, vice president for communications. "Some was used to support this FRONTLINE film, along with its many other funding sources. They did not directly fund this program."

"War on the EPA was a political story full of voices on both sides of a contentious issue," Hopkins continued. "The film spent considerable time illuminating the roots of conservative thinking and action towards the EPA and featured key figures from industry and the movement around Scott Pruitt, including Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy and Myron Ebell, the head of President Trump’s EPA transition team."

The group also donated $250,000 to the New Venture Fund, which also supports environmentalist organizations. The same year, New Venture Fund donated $515,000 to the Sierra Club Foundation and $95,000 to, which vows to "stop fossil fuels."

The documentary also features Andrew Miller, a lobbyist for Southern Company, who was asked by PBS if it was "unseemly" that oil and gas companies lobbied against Obama's environmental regulations and that Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general filed lawsuits to stop the rules.

"Not at all," Miller said. "And the reason I say that is you have the Sierra Club partnering with attorneys general on the other side."

"It's all part of the Democratic process," he said.

Update 8:14 a.m.: This post has been updated with comment from WGBH.

Published under: Scott Pruitt