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Destroying Public Confidence in the EPA

Pruitt is “ruling” the EPA in a manner more befitting a potentate than a public servant—operating in secrecy, silencing employees, and spending lavishly on himself. While Pruitt calls for draconian cuts in environmental programs, he has been wasting taxpayer dollars in extravagant ways that are now the target of multiple government investigations. His unethical and possibly illegal behavior is crushing the morale of career employees and damaging—perhaps fatally—the public’s faith in the EPA to do its job.

 

A General Accounting Office report found that Pruitt's EPA violated the law when he misused taxpayer dollars to install a new, $25,000 soundproof phone booth in the agency’s headquarters. Total cost for the project now appears to be closer to $43,000.

Pruitt is surrounded 24/7 by a security detail of 30 bodyguards—at an annual cost to taxpayers of $2 million.

In order to shield his secretive actions from scrutiny, Pruitt has reportedly banned some agency staff from bringing cell phones to meetings with him or from taking notes.

Pruitt has systematically shut out the EPA’s staff of scientists and experts from policymaking decisions, launched an intimidation campaign to keep them from going public with their concerns, and ordered the floor to his office locked, accessible to career staff only by escort.

Pruitt spent $120,000—via a no-bid contract—to hire a Republican opposition research firm, Definers Public Affairs, to monitor media coverage of the EPA. After it was disclosed that an affiliated company, America Rising, was working to identify, monitor, and dig up dirt on EPA employees who had criticized Pruitt or Trump, the contract was canceled.

Pruitt is under investigation by the EPA’s inspector general for lobbying on behalf of the mining industry while employed as a public servant.

The EPA’s inspector general is also investigating Pruitt’s trip to Morocco in December, reportedly aimed at promoting exports of natural gas—which is not the EPA administrator's job. The trip was partly arranged by Richard Smotkin, a longtime friend of Pruitt’s and former Comcast lobbyist who since that trip landed a $40,000-a-month contract with the Moroccan government promoting its cultural and economic interests. The Washington Post found that it’s “highly unusual” for trips like these to be organized by outside interests, and the trip cost taxpayers more than $100,000, including $16,217 for Pruitt’s airfare.

Following his appearance in a video produced by an industry group that opposes the Clean Water Rule, Pruitt came under investigation by the Government Accountability Office for violations of restrictions on lobbying and propaganda.

Pruitt is under investigation by the EPA’s inspector general for taking private and military flights that cost taxpayers more than $58,000.

More recently, it emerged that Pruitt billed taxpayers for nearly $200,000 in travel expenses over six months in 2017, including frequent trips home to Oklahoma. Much of that travel was on first-class and business-class flights, including a lavish trip to Italy that included cooking classes and private tours of the Vatican after Pruitt spent only a few hours at a two-day G7 meeting.

While in Washington, Pruitt pays just $50-per-night in a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of a major fossil fuel industry lobbyist with clients, like Exxon Mobil, with interests before the EPA. This $50 rental rate is an enormous discount from market rental rates in the area.

The EPA’s inspector general found that Pruitt’s chief of staff approved large pay raises of two of Pruitt’s top aides—despite the White House’s rejection of the raises—by using an obscure hiring provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act that doesn’t require White House approval. In a Fox News interview in early April, Pruitt denied knowing about the unusual salary increases. However, while appearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on April 26, 2018, Pruitt conceded he did in fact know of these pay raises.

According to a New York Times report, at least five high-ranking officials at EPA were reassigned, placed on leave, or dismissed after questioning Pruitt’s spending and management decisions. While appearing before a House subcommittee hearing on April 26, 2018, Pruitt denied allegations that employees were retaliated against for raising questions about spending concerns.

Kevin Chmielewsky, Pruitt’s former EPA deputy chief of staff, told congressional investigators that Pruitt routinely directed staffers to book expensive hotels, help him earn frequent flier miles, and schedule meetings to align with his personal travel desires. Mr. Chmielewsky told ABC News that he was “100 percent” forced out after raising these concerns and that Pruitt told a “boldfaced lie” when denying this to Congress.

Albert Kelly, whom Pruitt picked to run the EPA's Superfund program, resigned from the agency under scrutiny on May 1, 2018. Mr. Kelly had little or no experience working on Superfund-related issues but was a longtime business associate of Pruitt's from Oklahoma and previously worked in banking before being fined by the FDIC and barred from working in the finance industry.

Pruitt’s now chief of staff Ryan Jackson directed EPA staff to consider opening new office space in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Pruitt’s hometown, that would include 24/7 security and a facility for secure communications, raising additional questions about Pruitt’s excessive spending and the outsized amount of time he spends in his home state.

Pruitt is now seeking to establish a legal defense fund to help defray the cost of his own legal expenses—because he’s currently the subject of 11 federal investigations.

We do not take lightly our call to fire Scott Pruitt. NRDC has disagreed—frequently and respectfully—with EPA administrators of both parties. But Pruitt’s egregious actions across multiple fronts seem coordinated and designed to ensure that the EPA fails in its mission of protecting our health and environment. For that singular reason, we feel compelled to demand that President Trump take the extraordinary step of firing him.

 

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