When President Donald Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator in early 2017, political analysts thought the selection was a bold move, especially since Pruitt had endeavored to sue the EPA fourteen times during his tenure as attorney general. Democrats largely opposed the nomination of Pruitt who was well known for his professed denial of climate change. “Attorney General Pruitt made his name opposing EPA rules that protect human health and the environment, fighting against clean air and clean water, disregarding the science behind the EPA’s protections for human health and the environment, on behalf of for-profit special interests, not the public interest”, Senator Tom Udell (D-Mexico) remarked at the time of the confirmation hearing.
By contrast Republicans applauded the selection. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) thought that Pruitt was an ideal choice to lead the agency originally established by President Richard Nixon in 1970. “He has consistently fought against federal intrusion,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Pruitt. “The EPA must accept the limits of federal power.”
Up until recently, all was going well for Scott Pruitt. President Trump was pleased with his performance as EPA Administrator and repeatedly praised him for the great work he had done in revamping the agency and undoing many of the Obama Administration’s excessive regulations. Then everything changed. Suddenly the President’s Golden Boy was the subject of three separate scandals. Pruitt recently made headlines for renting a Capitol Hill condo for $50 a night from lobbyists Vicki and Steve Hart. Steve Hart, an energy lobbyist, was also from Oklahoma. The lease was only supposed to be in effect from February 2017 to April 1, 2017.
However, Pruitt who was frequently late on his rent kept trying to extend his lease while the Harts were sending him polite notes reminding him that he needed to move out because they had made arrangements to rent the condo to another party. The situation eventually got to point where the Harts had to change the locks. “Scott Pruitt is the Kato Kaelin of Capitol Hill. He is the long-term house guest who takes advantage of his host and refuses to take a hint when it is time to leave.” An individual familiar with the situation commented to Politico. Pruitt’s sweet heart condo deal is hardly a laughing matter for the EPA’s Inspector General which announced on Thursday April 5 that they were launching an investigation into the arrangement.
Pruitt has also come under fire for circumventing the White House to implement raises for two of his staffers. After The White House denied his requests for salary increases for his Senior Counsel Sarah Greenwald and his Scheduling Director Millan Huff, Pruitt used a provision of The Safe Drinking Water Act which provides him with the authority to hire up to thirty people without congressional or White House approval, to increase Greenwalt’s salary from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s, from $86,460 to $114,590.
Reported excessive spending is the third black mark against Pruitt which has led to the resignation of several EPA staffers. In addition to high travel expenses, Pruitt is also on the hot seat for having an inflated security detail, a twenty-person team which carries an annual price tag of close to $3 million dollars. Pruitt’s detail has been described as being three times the size of that of his predecessor Gina McCarthy. While an EPA spokesperson recently claimed that Pruitt has received many death threats, “a nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with threatening Pruitt.”
President Trump continues to stand by Pruitt in spite of these allegations of improper conduct with a Saturday tweet: “While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job! “
While Pruitt’s behavior has received criticism from some Republicans, some are supporting him including Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota who referred to the criticism of Pruitt as “nitpicking” in an interview with Chuck Todd for Meet the Press on Sunday April 8. “Mr. Pruitt has been doing a good job as the secretary of the EPA. He is moving forward exactly as this president said he would.” Rounds went on to say that Pruitt’s successful execution of President Trump’s environmental agenda is the reason for the negative spotlight on him.
Perhaps Senator Rounds has a point. The EPA’s Inspector General needs to do its due diligence regarding the allegations against Pruitt. However, if the report yields nothing of substance, Pruitt should be permitted to keep his job.