OKLAHOMA CITY – Republican Scott Pruitt, the scandal-ridden former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, filed Friday to run for Oklahoma's open U.S. Senate seat, making a return to politics in a state with deep ties to the oil and gas industry.
Pruitt, 53, a former Oklahoma attorney general and outspoken supporter of the energy industry, is seeking the seat being vacated by longtime Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe.
While Pruitt was attorney general, he filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the agency he was later picked to lead by former President Donald Trump. After arriving in Washington, he worked to dismantle Obama-era environmental regulations that aimed to reduce toxic pollution and planet-warming carbon emissions.
Pruitt stepped down as EPA administrator in 2018 amid a wave of ethics scandals, including living in a bargain-priced Capitol Hill condo tied to an energy lobbyist. He also faced ethics investigations into pricey trips with first-class airline seats and unusual security spending, including a $43,000 soundproof booth for making private phone calls. He also demanded 24-hour-a-day protection from armed officers, resulting in a swollen 20-member security detail that blew through overtime budgets and racked up expenses of more than $3 million.
Like Trump, Pruitt was a staunch advocate for the continued use of coal and other fossil fuels, voiced skepticism about mainstream climate science and was a fierce critic of the Paris climate agreement. Trump cheered Pruitt's moves to boost fossil fuel production and roll back regulations opposed by corporate interests. After leaving the agency, Pruitt registered as an energy lobbyist in Indiana.
In a brief interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Pruitt said he “led with conviction in Washington, D.C." and chalked up the criticism against him as resulting from leading an agency that was the “Holy Grail of the American left."
“And I made a difference in the face of that," Pruitt said. “I think Oklahomans know when the New York Times and CNN and MSNBC and those places are against you, Oklahomans are for you."
Pruitt will face a crowded GOP primary field seeking to replace Inhofe, 87, who shook up Oklahoma politics with his announcement that he would step down in January, just two years into his six-year term. More than a dozen Republican hopefuls filed to run for the seat, including U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, Inhofe's longtime chief of staff Luke Holland, state Sen. Nathan Dahm and Alex Gray, former chief of staff of the National Security Council under Trump.
Former U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn was the only Democrat to file for the seat.
Because of Inhofe's announcement, both of Oklahoma's U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs this cycle. Sen. James Lankford is seeking another six-year term. Lankford will face Tulsa pastor Jackson Lahmeyer and Joan Farr in the GOP primary. Six Democrats, a Libertarian and an independent also filed for that seat.
The most competitive U.S. House race is expected to be for the open 2nd Congressional seat in eastern Oklahoma being vacated by Mullin. Sixteen candidates, 14 Republicans, a Democrat and an independent, have filed for that post.
All of the statewide elected offices are up for grabs this cycle, including governor and lieutenant governor, as well as 24 of the 48 state Senate seats and all 101 state House seats.