The meeting took place in the shadow of office towers that dominate Oklahoma City’s skyline and are home to Continental Resources, a leader in the nation’s fastest- growing oil field, the Bakken formation of North Dakota, as well as Devon Energy, which drilled 1,275 new wells last year.
More liberal attorneys general, such as Douglas F. Gansler, Democrat of Maryland, did not participate.
“Indeed, General Gansler would in all likelihood try to hijack your summit,” Mr. Miller wrote to Mr. Pruitt in an email. “At best you would be left to preside over a debate, rather than a call to arms.”
Oklahoma energy companies were there, according to an agenda, joined by executives from Peabody Energy of Missouri, the world’s largest private-sector coal producer, as well as the Southern Company, which has aggressively challenged federal air pollution mandates.
The nation’s top corporate energy regulatory lawyers were there, too, including F. William Brownell, a senior partner at the law firm Hunton & Williams, which has spent more than 25 years fighting the enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
The event was organized by an energy-industry-funded law and economics center at George Mason University of Virginia. The center is part of the brain trust of conservative, pro-industry groups that have worked from the sidelines to help Mr. Pruitt and other attorneys general.
And there was nothing ambiguous about the agenda.
“Suggested Responses to Assaults on Federalism” was the topic of one breakfast meeting, moderated by Attorney General Wayne K. Stenehjem of North Dakota, that showcased Mr. Brownell and three other top corporate regulatory lawyers. Mr. Hamm was the featured dinner speaker.
“We need to ensure the robust role of the states,” said Paul M. Seby, another coal industry lawyer who attended. “And as the chief law enforcement officers, it is not surprising this is becoming a cornerstone of attorney generals’ attention.”
Attorneys general said they had no choice but to team up with corporate America. “When the federal government oversteps its legal authority and takes actions that hurt our businesses and residents, it’s entirely appropriate for us to partner with the adversely affected private entities in fighting back,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi of Florida, whose top deputy attended the meeting.
A ‘Strike Force’
The impact of the gathering was immediate. A week later, a new Federalism in Environmental Policy task force was established by lawyers in the offices of 19 state attorneys general, according to email records obtained from the office of Attorney General Timothy C. Fox of Montana, who had participated in the Oklahoma meeting.
“This message is in follow-up to the excellent environmental conference put on last week by George Mason University and hosted by the Oklahoma attorney general’s office,” said one email sent by Katie Spohn, the deputy attorney general in Nebraska. “In order to continue our coordination of efforts regarding Federalism in Environmental Policy, I am seeking input from each state who participated in the conference.”
Mr. Miller was pleased. “Just the kind of strike force I was talking about,” he said in an interview.
And the input poured forth. The states worked to detail major federal environmental action, like efforts to curb fish kills, reduce ozone pollution, slow climate change and tighten regulation of coal ash. Then they identified which attorney general’s office was best positioned to try to monitor it and, if necessary, attempt to block it.
Follow-up by Mr. Pruitt’s federalism office often came after coordination with industry representatives, especially from Devon Energy. The company, one of the most important financial supporters for the Republican Attorneys General Association, is guarded about its public profile. But it readily turned to Mr. Pruitt and his staff for help, setting up meetings for the attorney general with its chief executive, its chief lobbyist and other important players.
“We have a clear obligation to our shareholders and others to be involved in these discussions,” John Porretto, a Devon spokesman, said in a statement.
While some of the exchanges were general in character, others were quite explicit, especially the communication about the E.P.A.’s methane regulations that had prompted Mr. Whitsitt, the Devon official, to propose that Mr. Pruitt send a letter to the agency.
“Just a note to pass along the electronic version of the draft letter to Lisa Jackson at E.P.A.,” said one September 2011 letter to Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff from Mr. Whitsitt. “We have no pride of authorship, so whatever you do on this is fine.” Mr. Pruitt took the letter and, after changing just 37 words in the 1,016-word draft, copied it onto his state government letterhead and sent it to Ms. Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator.
That was just one of his challenges to Washington. Devon officials also turned to Mr. Pruitt to enlist other Republican attorneys general and Republican governors to oppose a rule proposed by the Bureau of Land Management that would regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal land.
“As promised, we are sending you the attached draft of the R.G.A./RAGA follow-up letter to President Obama opposing B.L.M.’s proposed rule,” Brent Rockwood, Devon’s director of government affairs, wrote to Mr. Pruitt’s staff in late 2012, in an email marked “confidential.”
Weeks later, that letter was sent to Mr. Obama without only a few word changes, signed by Mr. Pruitt and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who was the head of the Republican Governors Association at the time.
Company officials again expressed their pleasure to Mr. Pruitt.
“I’ve learned that we’re having an effect — and may be able to have more, perhaps even to having the rule withdrawn or shifted to almost a reporting-only one,” Mr. Whitsitt wrote, in another email marked “confidential.”
The rule — which the industry claims would cost $346 million a year to comply with — has still not been issued.
Coordination between the corporations and teams of attorneys general involved in the Rule of Law effort also involves actual litigation to try to clear roadblocks to energy projects, documents show.
Energy producers, for instance, wanted to sue the Interior Department as it considered adding animals such as the sage grouse — which nests near sites of oil and gas drilling — to a list of endangered species, a move that could put tens of thousands of acres off limits to new drilling.
The energy companies could have sued on their own, but their executives believed that the case would be more potent by bringing in Mr. Pruitt and the weight of the State of Oklahoma.
“We just came to the conclusion he would be the best person to be the lead attorney on this,” said Mike McDonald, an owner of Triad Energy, a small oil and gas exploration company, and the president of a group that calls itself the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance. “He has exceeded our expectations.” For the industry, the state is an extremely valued partner because states are granted “special solicitude” from the federal courts, a critical advantage to private companies that helps confer legal standing and means that a matter is less likely to be dismissed.
Mr. Pruitt’s office, in a statement to The Times, rejected any suggestion that the attorney general has been wrong to send to Washington comment letters written by industry lobbyists, or to take up their side in litigation.
“The A.G.’s office seeks input from the energy industry to determine real-life harm stemming from proposed federal regulations or actions,” the statement said. “It is the content of the request not the source of the request that is relevant.”
Persuading lawmakers to offer legislation has been another effective lobbying tool. In West Virginia, Mr. Miller handed Attorney General Patrick Morrisey a draft of legislation that he argued would put West Virginia in a better position to sue the Obama administration over proposed regulations to tighten pollution controls on power plants, emails show.
“I trust you will find the legislation acceptable in its present form,” Mr. Miller wrote to Mr. Morrisey in February, referring to a private meeting the two had had in the law library of Mr. Morrisey’s office in Charleston. “If so, I would appreciate your having it introduced by your friends in both the Senate and the House.”
A version of the bill was introduced and passed by the West Virginia Legislature in March. Delegate Rupert Phillips Jr., the chief sponsor of a second bill that also contained language identical to what Mr. Miller had requested, said in an interview that he had acted with Mr. Morrisey’s support, an account supported by William B. Raney, the president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
“It is nice to have everybody singing from the same sheet of music,” Mr. Raney said.
A spokesman for Mr. Morrisey disputed this account, saying that while he supported the effort to challenge the rule, he did not play a role in promoting the legislation.
The work in Mr. Pruitt’s office has sometimes seemed to blur the distinction between his official duties and the advancement of his political career.
Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, Crystal Drwenski, served as gatekeeper to his office, arranging meetings and helping companies get Mr. Pruitt and his staff to intervenewith the federal authorities. But Ms. Drwenski also played an important supplemental role for the attorney general: fund-raising aide.
“A.G. Pruitt is working with the Republican Attorneys General Association on their national meeting in Washington,” Ms. Drwenski wrote to Mr. Whitsitt. “The benefit of membership and participation is having 25 Republican A.G.s in a room to discuss policy issues.”
Ms. Drwenski wanted Devon Energy’s help in enlisting the American Petroleum Institute, and Mr. Whitsitt agreed.
“I’ve put in a plug to A.P.I.,” Mr. Whitsitt wrote back to Ms. Drwenski, a few hours after her request, having reached out to the organization’s senior lobbyist, Marty Durbin. “He is expecting a call.”
In addition to the American Petroleum Institute, major energy companies — ConocoPhillips, the oil and gas company; Alpha Natural Resources, a coal mining giant; and American Electric Power, the nation’s biggest coal consumer — have recently joined the Republican Attorneys General Association, bringing in hundreds of thousands of additional dollars to the group, internal documents show.
By last year, the association was starting to pull in so much money under Mr. Pruitt’s leadership that it decided to break free from its partnership with the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that represents state elected officials. Within months, the association also set up the Rule of Law Defense Fund, yet another legal entity that allows companies benefiting from the actions of Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general to make anonymous donations, in unlimited amounts. Fund-raising skyrocketed.
The $16 million that the association has collected this year is nearly four times the amount it collected in 2010, money it used mostly to buy millions of dollars’ worth of television advertisements in states like Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado and Nevada, all places where Republican candidates for attorney general won election.
The fund-raising has taken place on the state level as well. Oklahoma Gas & Electric — a for-profit utility that Mr. Pruitt joined with in federal court to fight the E.P.A. — invited its employees to the Petroleum Club in downtown Oklahoma City late last year for a fund-raising event for Mr. Pruitt, drawing donations from about 45 company employees, including the chief executive. Four days later, Mr. Pruitt filed a new appeal in the case — timing that the utility said was a coincidence.
While Mr. Pruitt’s efforts to raise money for the Republican Attorneys General Association have been an unqualified success, the lawsuits and regulatory appeals he has filed have yielded mixed results.
In May, the Supreme Court declined to take up the appeal on the Oklahoma Gas & Electric matter, meaning the company is now moving ahead on retrofitting its coal-burning plants. But other lawsuits are pending, including Mr. Pruitt’s challenge of the Dodd-Frank law, which rewrote the nation’s financial regulations, and, perhaps most important, his challenge of the tax subsidies that are a critical part of the Obama administration’s health care law.
Mr. Pruitt’s staff has juggled various duties — helping major corporations push their challenges against Washington, and then turning to these same executives, at times, to ask them for financial support.
For example, Ms. Drwenski, who is no longer Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, asked Devon Energy in 2012, on a workday afternoon, for help in signing up the American Petroleum Institute as a member of the Republican Attorneys General Association.
She used her personal email account to send out the initial request. But the subsequent exchange took place on her work email account, even though Oklahoma state law prohibits state officials from using state property or time to solicit political contributions. A spokesman for Mr. Pruitt said, “It is entirely possible she could have been taking a late lunch.”
Mr. Pruitt, who ran unopposed to win a second term, has not needed much of the money himself, but his fund-raising efforts have greatly benefited other Republicans running for the job.
That explains the partylike atmosphere late last month in South Florida, where members of the Republican Attorneys General Association held their fall meeting at the chic Fontainebleau Miami Beach, along with hundreds of lobbyists, lawyers and corporate executives, whose companies had paid as much as $125,000 for the privilege to celebrate with them.
During the opening reception, on a giant terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, with red, white and blue lights beaming onto the walls and rock music blasting, the Republican attorneys general strode to the stage to trumpet their new majority in the states.
Mr. Pruitt was there for the weekend’s festivities, an event at which Devon Energy served as a corporate host, with banners hung in the hotel hallways featuring the corporate logo.