EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is plagued on a near-daily basis by new and increasingly disturbing scandals, but his latest is a real doozy.
Pruitt was already under a cloud of suspicion for the extremely sweet deal he had on a condo in Washington, D.C., owned by a powerful lobbyist and his wife, where he paid a mere $50 a night. And not even every night — just the nights he stayed there.
Now it turns out that investment paid dividends.
In March of last year, the EPA approved the application of Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc. to expand its pipeline project.
The firm that lobbies on Enbridge’s behalf? Williams & Jensen, run by J. Steven Hart, aka, Pruitt’s inexplicably generous landlord. The condo is also, as the Daily Beast describes it, “a hub for Republican lawmakers hoping to raise money for their congressional campaigns.”
Shockingly, Pruitt’s spokesperson, Liz Bowman, is actually claiming this is all a random and unrelated coincidence.
“Any attempt to draw that link is patently false,” said Bowman.
The lobbying firm is also denying any connection.
Those denials aren’t likely to persuade anyone, though. Questions already swirled around the highly unusual “lease” arrangement. Now the revelation that he signed off on a deal specifically requested by the firm of his landlord’s husband will only increase suspicion.
“Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision,” said Don Fox, former general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush.
And the integrity of the EPA is already in question under Pruitt’s leadership.
He has been traveling in first-class and private luxury, on the taxpayers’ dime, racking up tens of thousands of dollars for “security” reasons. In October 2017 alone, he spent $58,000 on chartered flights.
All of this excessive spending, plus his 24-hour Secret Service protection, which even accompanied him and his family to Disneyland at taxpayers’ expense, is supposedly to keep Pruitt safe. Safe from American citizens who don’t like the anti-environmental policies he’s implementing.
“We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,” he said in February. “We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues and the [security] detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat.”
But the best example of a “threat” Pruitt could give was someone yelling “You’re f***ing up the environment!” at him in an airport.
As if his penchant for luxurious taxpayer-funded travel weren’t bad enough, the Washington Post reported Monday that the EPA explored leasing a private jet for approximately $100,000 a month.
Pruitt’s spending habits aren’t the only thing raising serious questions about the EPA, though. A recently leaked memo revealed that the EPA had instructed employees to lie about climate science.
Californians should be especially concerned, as the Trump administration (with the backing of several California Republicans) is exploring more offshore oil drilling, including off the coast of California. Increased drilling, with lax environmental standards, could spell disaster.
Pruitt and his agency are drowning in ethical questions. And the details of his below-market “lease” are only making his problems worse. Not that it will cost him his job. While Trump has been on a firing tear of late, Pruitt’s name hasn’t come up as the next likely member of the administration on the chopping block.
In fact, in March, Politico reported that Trump was considering finally axing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replacing him with Pruitt. Trump might want to rethink that, given the new scandals that emerged around Pruitt in the last week alone.
Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, is definitely rethinking that. Politico reported Monday that Kelly is considering getting rid of Pruitt, but he’s waiting for the report on another of Pruitt’s scandals: his pricey travels.
The problem for Kelly, though — as per usual — is Trump. Trump vowed to drain the swamp, but so far, at least, he thinks Pruitt’s doing a great job, scandals be damned. And that means Pruitt, who certainly seems to be in deep and growing trouble, might not be going anywhere just yet.