The flurry of ethical questions surrounding Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is now a blizzard. Following reports about Pruitt’s lavish travel expenses and his sweetheart deal on a condo rental from the wife of an energy lobbyist,the New York Times found that clients of that lobbyist’s firm won favorable treatment from the EPA while Pruitt was living in the condo.
The Post then reported Tuesday that the administrator may have improperly had public employees do private tasks for him, and the Atlantic revealed that Pruitt went behind the back of the White House to give one of those employees an unauthorized raise.
The emerging picture is of a chief environmental officer not only fighting a war on science as he promotes oil and gas interests but also arrogantly betraying the public trust.
According to the Times, Pruitt resided at the Capitol Hill condo when Enbridge Inc., a Canadian pipeline company, won a high recommendation from the EPA for an oil pipeline expansion. Enbridge was a client of lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, whose chairman is J. Steven Hart.
Hart’s wife, Vicki, is part owner of the condo. Pruitt lived in the condo for $50 a night - paying only for nights he stayed in the building - and his daughter used a second bedroom.
These terms were far beyond reasonable for the area, and even if they had nothing to do with the Enbridge decision, he should have known that any fair-minded observer would have concerns about him taking favors from lobbyists or their spouses.
When Pruitt moved out of the condo, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis reported Tuesday, Millan Hupp, a 26-year-old aide he installed at the EPA from his home state of Oklahoma, helped him find a new place. “There’s a general prohibition against misusing government resources, and employees are government resources,” Don Fox, a former top Office of Government Ethics official, told The Post. “It’s clearly personal, and frankly, it doesn’t matter if she did it 11 a.m. on a Tuesday or at 2 p.m. on a Saturday if, in fact, that was an expectation of the job.”
The Atlantic reported Tuesday that Hupp was one of two employees to whom Pruitt awarded a substantial raise - against the wishes of the White House. After the White House denied the administrator’s request to boost the salary of Hupp and senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt, Pruitt used an obscure provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to give them raises anyway. The provision is meant to give the EPA flexibility to hire experts and other specialized staff quickly. Instead, Pruitt used it to reward favored underlings.
Despite (or maybe because of) Pruitt’s waxing ethical scandals, President Donald Trump expressed his support for the administrator in a Monday phone call, proving once again the emptiness of his campaign promise to clean up Washington.
Time and again, Trump has accepted arrogance and incompetence on his staff as long as loyalty remains beyond question.