BY DAN DASKAL
Scott Pruitt, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, had until recently found great success in establishing his reputation as an effective pro-businesses public servant, dismantling various regulations and earning gleaming praise from fellow Republicans, including President Trump. Nevertheless, a surge of recent disclosures detailing Pruitt’s unethical conduct, ranging from publicly funded first-class flights to a suspicious housing rental tied to an energy lobbyist, have placed his future at the agency’s helm in doubt.
Pruitt was appointed by the Trump Administration on the basis of his previous tenure as the Oklahoma Attorney General, during which he sued the EPA on 14 separate occasions. These lawsuits constituted repeated attempts to block Obama administration regulations enacted to prevent air and water contamination, and regulated industry participants were parties to all but one of the 14 cases. These actions are in line with the Trump administration’s stated goal of eliminating at least two existing regulations for each new one. Moreover, in a 2017 interview with CNBC, Pruitt stated that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” These views are also in line with those of President Trump, who alleged in 2012 that the “concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
As Administrator of the EPA, Pruitt’s actions have remained consistent with both his skepticism of anthropogenic climate change and his pro-business attitude, leading to continued efforts to dismantle environmental regulations. Over the course of his term, Pruitt has held numerous meetings with industry officials and lobbyists in order to discuss the elimination of various regulations. Actions, however, speak louder than words, and Pruitt has backed his rhetoric by eliminating 67 environmental rules since President Trump’s inauguration, nearly a third of which involved the EPA. Most recently, Pruitt has publicized his agency’s plans to rewrite the Obama-era initiative that required all cars and lightweight trucks sold in the United States to average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, calling the standards “inappropriate” and in need of revision. The reactions to this announcement are largely consistent with ones from previous regulatory rollbacks, as while the auto industry expressed its support for the move, 14 state attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, derided the proposal as “irrational and irresponsible” and announced their intent to challenge it in court. Republican politicians, unsurprisingly, have supported Pruitt’s efforts.
Nevertheless, in recent weeks Pruitt has come under fire as allegations of misconduct continue to mount. While Pruitt is known for having close ties to the business community, he appears to have crossed the line of ethical conduct, having rented a room at a townhouse in Washington D.C. from the wife of an energy lobbyist at a rate of only $50 per night. Pruitt was allowed to leave his belongings in the unit and only had to pay for nights which he slept in the residence, a highly unusual arrangement. Moreover, during this time, the EPA approved a pipeline requested by a client of lobbyist J. Steven Hart – the husband of Pruitt’s landlord – further contributing to concerns of impropriety. Pruitt has also been accused of a laundry list of improper spending, including nearly $43,000 on a soundproof phone system for his office (when a secure room was available in the building), over $100,000 on first-class, military, and charter flights, and a 24-hour security detail (even on personal trips). An additional request for $70,000 on two new desks, one of which was bulletproof, was fortunately never fulfilled. In addition, Pruitt demoted or reassigned four high-ranking EPA officials after they expressed concerns regarding his spending and behavior. Democratic lawmakers have seized on these allegations, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling for Pruitt’s resignation. While three Republican members of Congress have also called on Pruitt to resign, President Trump has remained steadfast in his support for Pruitt. On April 7, Trump tweeted that “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!”
Scott Pruitt presents yet another example of the unethical conduct and corruption that has plagued President Trump’s Cabinet. Thus far, at least seven Cabinet members have been accused of ethics violations, with former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price having resigned after it was revealed that he spent nearly half a million dollars on private charter and military jets. If President Trump wishes to effectively implement his desired agenda, he must first ensure that his appointed officials cease to abuse their offices, as well as the public’s trust. Even if President Trump is not personally offended by these unethical actions, they have tarnished the reputation of his administration, thereby diminishing its ability to function.