White House Stands by EPA Chief Mired in Scandal
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt received a Twitter endorsement from President Trump this past Saturday despite an onslaught of allegations of corruption and ethics violation due to his connections with a pair of energy lobbyists.
In his tweet, Trump defended Pruitt’s elevated level of spending as EPA administrator as a necessity due to the latter receiving death threats; Trump also dismissed the allegations of Pruitt receiving below-market rent prices, calling the affair “about market rate”.
The controversy initially erupted due to revelations regarding Pruitt’s renting of a condominium owned by Vicki Hart, wife of lobbying firm Williams & Jensen chairman Steven Hart. Pruitt’s lease stipulated that he pay about $50 per night for the apartment, and also included a provision that requires him to pay only for the nights he stayed there.
Critics charge that the amenities provided by the Harts influenced the EPA’s decision in early 2017 to sign off on an expansion of the Alberta Clipper pipeline, owned by Calgary-based energy company Enbridge Inc.
This decision came after the EPA, under the Obama Administration, fined Enbridge Inc. for $61 million due to its connection with 2010 pipeline leak that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into various waterways.
While Williams & Jensen denies influencing or lobbying on behalf of Enbridge, it is registered as a lobbyist for Enbridge in a disclosure report filed in early 2017. The firm also represents the interests of numerous other firms that are regulated by the EPA.
In addition to these charges of corruption, critics have also attacked Pruitt for his spending as EPA Administrator. This includes his frequent first-class air travels and his purchasing of expensive office items, such as a soundproof telephone booth. The EPA is currently working with the Congressional Oversight Committee by providing documents and memos in order clear Pruitt of the ethics violation charges.
Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman of the Congressional Oversight Committee, is currently looking into Pruitt’s condo lease. John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, has also been reported to have advocated for the dismissal of Pruitt as EPA Administrator.
However, several Senate Republicans have advocated for keeping Pruitt despite criticizing Pruitt for the alleged ethics violations. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have publicly commented on the difficulty of confirming a new EPA Administrator if Pruitt is forced out.
Pruitt faced a difficult confirmation process in 2017 due to opposition from Democrats and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). Due to the Republicans’ narrowed majority following Doug Jones’ win in the special election for Jeff Sessions’ Alabama Senate seat, observers clam that it’s unlikely Senate Republicans will risk another contentious confirmation process.