Sunday 26/05/2019 - 12:41 am

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt"s ethical challenges piling up; many involve lavish spending

2018.05.24 04:33

 Scott Pruitts future as EPA Administrator is on shaky ground over a series of ethical lapses, misconduct allegations and lavish spending that have prompted several Republicans to join Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups in demanding his ouster.

President Trump has continued to back his embattled Cabinet member so far, praising him for being "very courageous" and doing a "fantastic job," even as word that key White House officials are angry at Pruitt. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chief of Staff John F. Kelly urged Trump to fire him.

The president came to Pruitts defense weeks ago and, despite reported rumblings of discontent, has yet to publicly indicate hes ready to replace his cabinet pick. In a tweet pushing back on earlier media reports that he was considering replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Pruitt, Trump characterized Pruitt as a victim who is "TOTALLY under siege."

But the presidents endorsement hasnt stopped more Republicans in Congress from joining the Pruitt-must-go chorus. A handful of GOP lawmakers have joined 170 Democrats on Capitol Hill in calling for his dismissal as new allegations mount weekly.

Heres a rundown of some of the ethical and spending issues for which Pruitt is being criticized:
Lobbyists apartment rental

Pruitt paid $50 a night to rent a room on Capitol Hill in an apartment owned by the wife of atop Washington lobbyist, whose firm represents prominent energy clients. Pruitt used the room beginning in February 2017, around the time the Senate confirmed him as EPA administrator, and paid rent only for the nights he stayed there, until he moved out in July of that year.

The total he paid over the six months was roughly $6,100, well below market rates for a one-bedroom Capitol Hill apartment during that same period, according to those familiar with the arrangement. In addition, his adult daughter stayed in a separate bedroom while she interned during the summer for the White House, according to reports.

EPAs senior ethics official, Kevin Minoli, recently reviewed the lease — months after Pruitt had vacated the apartment — and initially deemed the arrangement did not violate agency rules on accepting gifts. Several days later, Minoli said he didnt have all the facts surrounding the deal.

It was discovered later that J. Steven Hart, the lobbyist whose wife rented the condo, sought EPA positions on the agencys prominent science advisory board for a lobbying client shortly after Pruitt left the apartment, according to the Associated Press.

On Aug. 10, Hart emailed Ryan Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, to recommend three candidates for the agencys important Science Advisory Board on behalf of Dennis Treacy, the president of the Smithfield Foundation. The Foundation is a client of Williams & Jensen, the lobbying firm where Hart worked until he retired in April.

The suggestions were among hundreds the EPA received for the board, and the three people suggested by Hart were not appointed to the advisory board, Jackson said in the statement to the AP.

Both the agencys inspector general and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are looking into the arrangement.
Trip to Morocco

In December, Pruitt traveled to Morocco on a trip that was partially arranged by a lobbyist and cost $100,000 — more than double what the EPA initially reported.

Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist who is a longtime Pruitt friend, helped plan the trip, accompanied him on the trip and served as a liaison, according to details reported by The Washington Post. 

The newspaper notes Smotkins role in the trip is unusual and could pose more problems for Pruitt since federal laws prohibit public officials from using government resources to financially benefit friends or relatives.

Months after the visit, Smotkin registered as a foreign agent representing the Moroccan government after taking a contract with the country. The contract, which he won last month, pays him $40,000 a month to promote the Moroccan cultural and economic interests, the Post reports.

In a statement issued by the EPA, Pruitt did not comment on the specifics of the report, saying only that the meeting "allowed us to directly convey our priorities and best practices with Moroccan leaders, as well as identify opportunities for continued cooperation."
Raises for top aides

Over White House objections, Pruitt pushed for hefty raises for two long-time aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, who had come with him from Oklahoma where he was attorney general, according to The Atlantic.

Pruitt didnt get approval through normal channels; the agency circumvented the White House by providing the raises through an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act allows the EPA administrator hiring flexibility, according to the magazine.

The administrator later told lawmakers he was in the dark about the raises  — a claim contradicted by a later story that ran in The Atlantic April 9.

"I was not aware at any time of the amount or the process that was used," he told members of the Appropriations Committee during an April 26 hearing. He said he has rescinded the raises.

Thats not true, according to Kevin Chmielewski, who served as deputy chief of staff for operations under Pruitt until he was demoted earlier this year. He told Democrats on Capitol Hill the raises were "100% Pruitt himself."

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