Environmental Policy – Brief 30
Press Release from Oversight Committee Sent April 11, 2018
Update May 21, 2018
In late April, Scott Pruitt had a hearing on Capitol Hill regarding his various ethical controversies. Over the course of the two sessions, Pruitt did admit that he knew about the raises for two of his aides but little else, primarily placing blame on EPA aides and staff. In his opening statement, Pruitt claimed that many of the accusations were either exaggerations or completely fabricated. A former aide has already told news outlets that Pruitt lied to Congress during these hearings. The response to Pruitt’s time on the Hill have been mixed, primarily along party lines. White House aides are prompting Trump to fire Pruitt and various Democrats are calling for his resignation. However, Republican members of Congress are aware that Pruitt is their best chance to pass legislation regarding environmental regulation. And so he stays.
Since the hearings, new potential ethics violations have come to lights, including meetings with the Heritage Foundation, plans to stage public debates, hiring additional private council, and another trip paid for by lobbyists. The EPA has attempted to keep records and documents from Congress, and emails have been discovered detailing EPA staff attempts to shield Pruitt from scrutiny and explain the necessity of his high security costs. Pruitt has continued to work on various rollbacks of Obama era legislation.
In letters sent to President Trump and the EPA Secretary Pruitt, the Oversight Committee of U.S. Congress requested documents from Secretary Pruitt as they investigate the myriad of controversies that have arisen around the EPA’s lead administrator. Pruitt is currently past the given deadline to produce the documents, and the deadline has been extended to April 25, 2018. Another letter was written to Kevin Minoli, EPA’s Chief Ethics Officer, from the Office of Government Ethics asking him to participate in the investigations. The Government Accountability Office and the EPA’s Inspector General are also taking a look at records and requesting explanations. There have been rumblings of misconduct for quite a while, but these accusations nowballed once an aide came forward. The former aide, Kevin Chmielewski, was put on leave after questioning the Secretary’s spending habits. In addition to the extreme travel spending, Pruitt is under investigation by ethics committees for a discounted condo purchase from a lobbyist and the use of multiple undisclosed email addresses. Despite calls for his resignation and his 29 percent approval rating, many Republicans and businessman supported Pruitt and his position, especially in light of the moderate that would most likely take his place.
Spending: Most of Pruitt’s spending controversies revolve around his travel, security detail and bonuses for special hires. Citing death threats, Pruitt has booked exclusively first class travel and more exorbitant hotel accommodations than those recommended by the State Department for international travel. Some of these destinations were based on personal travel rather than business, and Pruitt took many unjustified trips to his home state of Oklahoma. Republican lawmakers have since disregarded Pruitt’s death threat reasoning for his extreme spending on travel and security.
Ethics: Pruitt has also approved extreme bonuses for loyal employees that were rejected by oversight committees, including a long-time lobbyist for the chemical industry. A coal lobbyist was just confirmed as his number two and an oil tycoon ran his re-election campaign. Pruitt has gotten a long-term deal on a bedroom in a D.C. condo on a per-night basis from a health care lobbyist, although her husband has pending business with the EPA.
Emails: In another letter, the EPA’s Inspector General, Arthur Elkins, was asked to look into Pruitt’s three email accounts to make sure proper records were maintained. There is concern that Pruitt uses these additional email addresses to spread false information and conduct undocumented business.
Keep Track of the Pruitt Investigations on the Oversight Committee’s Website
This brief was compiled by Megan Toney. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.