Strange Doings at the EPA

The Curmudgeon has already touched on some of the strange doings of Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Scott Pruitt. Pruitt appears to be one of those people who sees public service as an opportunity to live well: chartered planes, first-class seats when he has to fly commercial, a large security detail, jobs for his friends, and, we learned just recently, bargain accommodations in Washington, D.C.

Nice work if you can get it.

The president loves Pruitt because Pruitt is delivering bigly for him: Pruitt’s mission at the EPA is to tear down as many environmental standards as possible so American manufacturers can make things at less cost.

Clean air? Who needs it – revoke clean air regulations.

Clean water? Who needs it – revoke clean water regulations.

Currently he’s on a drive to pull back on increasing car mileage standards – so much so that even the car companies, which generally favor making it easier to build cheap cars, are a bit alarmed.

But the lavish travel at taxpayer expense and the laying the groundwork for despoiling the environment have overshadowed some other strange doings at Pruitt’s EPA.

So let’s have the web site Vox fill us in on some of those doings, starting with how a public official in Washington, D.C. has found an apartment he can use, when he’s in town and wants it, for $50 a night.

On March 29, ABC News broke the story that Pruitt received a terrific deal on a rental property less than a block from the Capitol building for the first six months he lived in DC in 2017. The problem is the property belongs in part to the wife of a high-profile lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, who also contributed to Pruitt’s political campaigns and has a liquefied natural gas producer as his client. The wife, Vicki Hart, is a health care lobbyist.

Oh, and Pruitt paid just $50 a night, and only for the nights he was there, paying $6,100 for six months. His daughter McKenna Pruitt, who was a White House intern at the time, lived there too.

During his stay, Pruitt took off one afternoon to nap. His full-time security detail (more on that later) was concerned something was amiss and broke down the glass-paneled door of his rental property to check on him. The EPA then reimbursed the property for $2,460 for damages.

According to an EPA memo, “if the space was utilized for one 30-day month, then the rental cost would be $1,500, which is a reasonable market price.” (It’s not.) Pruitt’s pad was also used to host GOP fundraisers.

Sorry, but $1500 a month is NOT the going rate for an apartment just a block from the Capitol.

This whole imbroglio stands out because of the favors that appear to have been exchanged here between Pruitt and someone with ties to the industry his agency regulates.

In March 2017, the EPA approved a natural gas pipeline extension from a company represented by Hart’s firm, Williams & Jensen, while Pruitt was living in his wife’s property.

And in December, Pruitt jetted off to Morocco to pitch “the potential benefit of liquified natural gas (LNG) imports on Morocco’s economy,” flying in first class with his head of security and another staffer.

What’s next, the cone of silence?

Next is some monkey business Vox categorizes under the heading “Paranoia.”

Since taking office, Pruitt has displayed some odd paranoia about his security. Shortly after starting his new job, he spent $3,000 to sweep his office for surveillance bugs. He then spent $5,800 to install biometric locks with fingerprint readers.

Wait: he’s running the EPA, not the CIA, right? Do we really have deep, dark environmental secrets that need to be protected?

No, not THAT kind of escort.

He also spent more than $42,000 to build a phone booth in his office. He hides his schedule from the public. His own employees need an escort to see him and aren’t allowed to take notes at meetings.

Can’t take notes at meetings? What kind of nonsense is that?

Most notably, Pruitt has surrounded himself with an unprecedented round-the-clock security detail that has accompanied him on trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.

And the head of the Environmental Protection Agency needs to go to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl because…?

CNN calculated that Pruitt’s security detail costs taxpayers $2 million per year, not including travel, training, and equipment.

Finally, Vox notes that Pruitt has a strange approach to hiring people.

Pruitt said one of his highest priorities at the EPA is the Superfund program, a federal initiative to clean up highly contaminated sites throughout the country.

Naturally, he’d want someone he can rely on to run the show. And that’s why he picked a guy he owes money to.

Albert Kelly, an Oklahoma banker, lent money to Pruitt to buy a home and a minor league baseball team. Kelly was later banned from working in the banking sector for life by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and faced $125,000 in fines.

He now collects a $172,000 salary from the EPA as a senior adviser to the administrator. His résumé lists no experience in environmental management but mentions “political activity” as one of his core competencies.

EXACTLY what we need more of in government. Isn’t it enough that we already have Jared Kushner?

Pruitt has also let staffers at the EPA keep their political consulting side gigs and gave big raises to two employees without approval from the White House.

So these folks can theoretically “consult” with companies that have business with the EPA?

Finally, in an episode reported for the first time just yesterday, Pruitt awarded large raises to two of his upper-level staff members after the White House specifically rejected the pay raises. Because the staffers in question were political appointees, giving them raises requires permission from the White House personnel office and that permission was denied. Pruitt then seized upon an obscure passage in a 1996 law to reappoint the people to whom he wanted to give raises to new positions – the exact same job, it was just a paperwork shuffle – and give them their raises: a $28,000 raise for one of them and a $56,000 raise for the other. When The Atlantic uncovered the shenanigans, Pruitt claimed to be shocked – shocked! – at what happened and said he would reverse the raises and get to the bottom of how it happened and that “There will be some accountability on that.”

Riiiiiight.

So what does Pruitt have to say about all this? The online publication The Hill asked him.

“There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” Pruitt told told Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner. 

“It’s toxic here in that regard,” Pruitt added.

“This president’s courage and commitment to make those things happen and him empowering his teammates in each of these respective agencies to say, ‘go forth and get results and get accountability,’ it’s happening. It’s happening here, it’s happening elsewhere. And do I think that is something that some folks don’t like? Absolutely. And do I think they’ll use any means to [stop] it? Absolutely. And it’s frustrating,” he said. 

Well, if using “any means to stop it” means telling the truth and pointing out all those abuses, The Curmudgeon guesses Pruitt is right. Note, however, that Pruitt doesn’t deny any of the accusations against him: doesn’t deny the extravagant travel, doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with the high-end Washington accommodations at Motel 6 prices courtesy of a lobbyist, doesn’t deny the lavish spending to deal with his bizarre paranoia, doesn’t deny the favoritism in his agency’s hiring and decisions, and doesn’t deny letting EPA employees moonlight, potentially with people who have business before the EPA.

But there’s one thing nobody can deny: the guy’s a wackadoodle, and the sooner he’s a former cabinet member, the better.

 

 

 

 

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