In the scandal-ridden Trump administration, Scott Pruitt stands out for some of the more egregious acts, and it’s only gotten worse for him in the past few days.
Story after story has broken about the EPA chief's ties to energy lobbyists who were letting him stay with them for motel prices, his propensity for private jet travel, his giving raises to his favorite aides and bypassing the White House to do so — and that the White House has reportedly considered firing him.
Pruitt’s been attracting controversy since the day he took office. He was, after all, an unusually Trumpian pick for head of the EPA: He’d sued the agency 14 times as attorney general of Oklahoma, and, as a skeptic of humans’ role in our changing climate, seemed someone who was entirely at odds with the agency President Trump nominated him to run.
But despite his ideological incongruity with the EPA, Pruitt has turned out to be controversial for a host of reasons having little to do with the deregulatory policies he’s favored at a regulatory agency.
Here’s a rundown of all the Pruitt news you missed if you blinked in the last day:
The EPA considered a lease on a private jet
The age-old Trump Cabinet scandal reared its head again this week: The EPA was considering a month-to-month lease on a private jet to accommodate Pruitt’s frequent travel — and that of his round-the-clock security detail — the Washington Post reported Monday night.
His staffers reportedly contacted NetJets, a private jet leasing company, to figure out whether it might make sense to just keep a jet on hand rather than have to get one every time the administrator flies, according to current and former EPA employees who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity.
This was all considered before Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned over reports that he’d spent $2 million on private jets, according to the Post.
Pruitt has largely been flying commercial — and has said that he will fly coach from now on, after flying first class to avoid altercations with customers in coach.
Pruitt did an end-run around the White House to give his favorite staffers a raise
Pruitt wanted a raise for his two closest political staffers. Because they were political and not career staffers, Pruitt had to go through the White House to get their raises approved. The White House turned him down, according to the Atlantic.
But Pruitt, undeterred, found another way. He used an arcane provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act, which allows the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 staffers at his own discretion, to give them a raise anyway. This provision is generally used to hire specialists in understaffed offices, former acting EPA administrator Bob Perciasepe told The Atlantic. It’s not meant for political staffers. These two staffers, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, had followed Pruitt from Oklahoma to Washington. Hupp got about a $35,000 raise; Greenwalt got nearly $60,000.
Pruitt met with the White House in March, according to The Atlantic. Two weeks later, the raises were approved.
That lobbyist tied to the condo Pruitt’s been staying in? His company’s pipeline got a green light from the EPA
Pruitt signed off in March of 2017 on a pipeline-extension plan from Enbridge, Inc., a Canadian energy company, according to the New York Times. He’s been staying in a condo owned by the wife of the head of a lobbying firm, Williams & Jensen, for just $50 a night.
Williams & Jensen is the registered lobbyist for Enbridge.
It may well be that Pruitt didn’t do anything wrong here, strictly speaking. The pipeline wasn’t controversial, and was widely expected to get the EPA’s OK. But ethics experts told the Times that this is exactly why an EPA chief should not be staying in a condo tied to an energy lobbyist.
“Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the EPA decision,” said Don Fox, a general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, according to the Times.
John Kelly reportedly “considered” firing Pruitt
Before the last week of scandals took the EPA by storm, Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly was reportedly “considering” firing Pruitt, according to Politico. But Pruitt has been effective at implementing the president’s deregulatory agenda, working round the clock to roll back environmental regulations, particularly those aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change.
Early Tuesday morning, a CBS News reported tweeted that Trump called Pruitt to assure him that his job was safe, and that Kelly followed up with a call of his own. The New York Times confirmed that the call took place.
For the time being, it seems Pruitt’s job is safe. As long as he continues to roll back regulations, he may stay in Donald Trump’s good graces.
Cover image: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks at a news conference at the EPA in Washington, Tuesday, April 3, 2018, on his decision to scrap Obama administration fuel standards. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)