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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

April 22, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Scott Pruitt comes under fire

At least five officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were demoted, have resigned or have asked to be reassigned, citing concerns about Scott Pruitt’s, the administrator of the agency, management, as well as his spending of the EPA’s funds. The officials’ reports are only a few of the many concerns mounting against Pruitt.

According to reports from current and former EPA employees, Pruitt has spent a large amount of the agency’s funds on luxurious office furniture and first-class travel. Pruitt has also spent a large amount of funds on added security measures, such as a bulletproof vehicle and a 20-person security detail that has cost taxpayers $3 million.

Some of Pruitt’s decisions have also come under ethical scrutiny. On March 29, ABC News reported that Pruitt had been living in a townhouse belonging to J. Steven Hart, chairman and CEO of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen. Hart’s firm specializes in “issues related to the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), approval of LNG exports and export facilities,” according to the Williams & Jensen website.

Because the exact price of the townhouse that Pruitt occupied has yet to be determined, it is still unclear if he accepted an improper gift, according to what ethics experts told ABC News.

In addition, Pruitt allegedly exploited a provision in the Safe Water Drinking Act in March 2018 to give two of his aides raises that may not have been approved otherwise. The provision, which was passed in 1996, was originally created with the intention of expediting the hiring of experts for the agency. Pruitt used the provision to rehire his aides under a new authority, which allowed him to change their salaries without seeking White House approval.

The criticism comes after rumors started circulating that President Donald Trump has been planning to fire Jeff Sessions as attorney general and have Pruitt step into the position. According to White House sources, Trump has alluded to firing Sessions since Sessions recused himself from the ongoing Russia investigation in March 2018.

Trump denied the rumors on Twitter on April 6, blaming the media for misinformation.

“Do you believe that the Fake News Media is pushing hard on a story that I am going to replace A.G. Jeff Sessions with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, who is doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege?” Trump said on Twitter. “Do people really believe this stuff? So much of the media is dishonest and corrupt!”

Pruitt has pushed back against allegations made against him, defending his decision to rent the condo and claiming he had no knowledge of the reappointment given to his aides.

“I found out this yesterday and I corrected the action and we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it,” Pruitt told Fox News on April 5.

Meaghan McElroy can be reached at mmcelroy@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meaghan_mcelroy