Saturday, April 07, 2018

The Drumbeat To Rid The EPA Of Scott Pruitt Is The Loudest I Ever Heard


Friday evening the Washington Post ran an editorial, Scott Pruitt Is Unfit To Serve. That should surprise anyone. He was unfit to serve as Oklahoma Attorney General and many people think he was Trump’s worst cabinet pick, or tied for worst with Betsy DeVos. But he’s getting hammered not for his earth-destroying agenda but for his swampy ethical problems. He thinks he’s president or king and behaves that way. “The blizzard of ethical questions, surrounding Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt,” wrote The Post editors, “has become a Category 5 storm. Already facing big questions about his wasteful spending and relationships with lobbyists, Mr. Pruitt intensified his problems by dishonestly blaming his staff for one major ethical failure. Then the New York Times revealed that staffers who tried to rein in Mr. Pruitt’s unnecessary spending were punished. More than ever, it is clear that Mr. Pruitt is unfit to serve.”
Mr. Pruitt, who has eschewed contact with mainstream media in favor of sympathetic conservative outlets, took to Fox News on Wednesday to defend himself. But under questioning from Fox News’s Ed Henry, Mr. Pruitt was unable to explain how two of his favorite staffers got massive, unauthorized pay raises that the White House had previously rejected. The administrator claimed he did not know who on his staff was responsible for the end run around the White House and that he only heard about the raises the previous day. Yet The Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Josh Dawsey reported subsequently that Mr. Pruitt had, in fact, ordered the raises. It is still unclear how involved he was in circumventing the White House’s rejection of those raises, but his total denial of responsibility on Fox News does not square with the reported record.

Meanwhile, the New York Times revealed Thursday that five EPA staffers who questioned Mr. Pruitt’s lavish spending were reassigned or demoted. These staffers raised concerns about first-class travel, costly security upgrades, and expensive office furniture and renovations. One of them fought buying Mr. Pruitt a $100,000-per-month charter aircraft membership, spending $70,000 to replace two office desks and wasting $43,000 on a soundproof booth in the administrator’s office. Another objected to using flashing lights and sirens to shuttle Mr. Pruitt through Washington traffic-- including to dinner at the French restaurant Le Diplomate. Several of the staffers raised concerns about Mr. Pruitt flying first class, a habit the administrator indulged in more often after one of them was sidelined. An EPA spokesman claimed that Mr. Pruitt was unaware of some of these extravagant outlays and rejected the notion that concerned staffers had been punished, but the administrator has already shown what his denials are worth.

Capping off the week, EPA ethics officers walked back their clearance of Mr. Pruitt’s sketchy condo rental deal, revealing that they had not been given all the relevant information necessary to make a reasonable call. The administrator rented a room in a Capitol Hill condo for $50 a night-- but only paid for the nights he spent in residence, and his daughter was allowed to use a second bedroom. He got this sweetheart deal from the wife of a prominent energy and environmental lobbyist whose clients obtained favorable treatment from the EPA while Mr. Pruitt was staying at the condo.

In any normal administration, Mr. Pruitt would be gone. Instead, even as revelations about Mr. Pruitt piled up this week, Mr. Trump was reportedly still entertaining the idea of installing Mr. Pruitt as attorney general, a position for which his primary qualification may be willingness to squelch the Russia investigation. An ideologue who has arrogantly abused his position, Mr. Pruitt does not deserve a promotion. He deserves to be fired.
64 members of Congress sent a letter to Trump making the case for firing Pruitt. It’s a long letter so there is no chance whatsoever that he will read it. They should have made it into a coloring book.
Dear President Trump:

We formally request that you ask Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to resign. Scott Pruitt’s unethical behavior, wasteful use of taxpayer money, and his efforts to undermine the EPA’s core mission to protect our environment and public health demand an appropriate response: his resignation or his firing.

Unethical Behavior

Pruitt worked out a special deal on housing rent with the wife of an industry lobbyist who represents companies regulated by the EPA and who was an active contributor to his political career. More specifically, Pruitt paid just $50/night for a Capitol Hill condominium, and only for the nights he used a bedroom in the townhouse, a sum well below the market value. Pruitt’s daughter also stayed in the townhouse in a separate room, at no added cost.

More concerning to us are the conflicts of interest involved with his condominium arrangement. Companies represented by his lobbyist-landlord received EPA approval during his stay in the townhouse—the extent of which we do not fully know yet. The townhouse is also a known GOP fundraiser site, and several fundraisers were held during the timeframe that Administrator Pruitt was staying there. Pruitt did not report the details of this concerning arrangement to ethics counsel at the EPA, nor to the public, beforehand.

Separately, this past March, the White House Presidential Personnel Office denied Administrator Pruitt’s request to substantially increase the salary of two of his staffers, who came from Oklahoma with him to DC. Seemingly unwilling to take “no” for an answer,  Pruitt used an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and “ordered” EPA to give those two Oklahoma staffers salary increases of $28,130 and $56,765-- another issue the EPA IG is now investigating. In an interview after reports of the pay raises surfaced this week, Administrator Pruitt denied any knowledge of the matter. According to press reports, one of those staffers was also responsible for securing his personal housing arrangements. Pruitt also used this obscure legal provision to hire several industry lobbyists, a loophole that allows him to avoid having those hires sign your ethics pledge.

Administrator Pruitt has also engaged in potential anti-lobbying violations: the Government Accountability Office is investigating his appearance in a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association video urging farmers to comment on proposed changes to the Clean Water Rule; and, the IG is already reviewing Pruitt’s call for a mining group to lobby on the Paris climate agreement.

Administrator Pruitt also continually refuses to recuse himself on issues under EPA consideration. As Attorney General (AG) of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, and in 13 of those 14 cases, regulated industries were also parties. Mr. Pruitt and his affiliated Political Action Committees received campaign contributions from co-parties like Murray Energy, Peabody Energy and Southern Power Company. It was also found that Mr. Pruitt lied during his confirmation hearing by saying that he never used private email as AG, although private emails surfaced between AG Pruitt and Devon Energy, directly disputing his statement.

The core mission of the EPA is to protect the environment and human health. Yet, Administrator Pruitt spent most of his first year in office meeting with his industry stakeholders-- meetings that undoubtedly influenced his policy directives and decision-making at the EPA. According to a Washington Post analysis of his public schedule, Pruitt held 218 meetings in 2017 with representatives of industries he regulates, while only meeting a dozen times with environmental and public health groups. In one case, just hours after meeting with the CEO of a foreign mining company, the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), EPA Administrator Pruitt directed his staff to withdraw from a plan to protect the watershed of Bristol Bay, Alaska under the Clean Water Act’s 404(c) process in order to push forward a controversial proposal to build one of the world’s largest open pit copper and gold mines there.

Administrator Pruitt has actively stacked the EPA with friends and industry insiders. An analysis by the Associated Press found that one-third of 59 new EPA political appointee positions it tracked were registered lobbyists or lawyers for fossil fuel producers, chemical manufacturers or other corporate clients. Pruitt also installed unqualified friends in EPA positions that don’t require Senate confirm­ation. To lead the EPA’s Superfund Task Force, Pruitt hired his friend Albert Kelly, who had previously provided three loans to Pruitt through his bank before being barred from the banking industry for life by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  The FDIC determined in May 2017 that it “ha[d] reason to believe that [Kelly] violated a law or regulation, by entering into an agreement pertaining to a loan by the Bank without FDIC approval” and in July determined that he was unfit to serve in any banking or banking-affiliated position, though did not publicize further specifics as to why.

Additionally, Pruitt has worked to ensure that the EPA is cloaked in secrecy rather than being transparent and accountable to the American public. Within weeks of his arrival, the EPA’s public affairs office stopped responding to many reporters’ questions and sharing his complete schedule. EPA staff reported not being allowed to take notes in meetings or carry their cellphones, limiting the paper trail that can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). One FOIA request found that Pruitt's Superfund Task Force, chaired by his friend the FDIC-banned Albert Kelly, took no minutes of its meetings and produced just one document-- a list of final recommendations. When EPA was mishandling its emergency response of Superfund sites, Pruitt’s press office proactively challenged accounts of disarray.

Wasteful Use of Taxpayer Money

Administrator Pruitt is under several EPA Inspector General (IG) investigations for his wasteful use of taxpayer money. The IG is investigating Pruitt’s decision to enter the EPA into a contract for a new $43,000 secure phone booth inside his office, despite the fact that two secure facilities already exist in the same building. It is also investigating his extravagant travel habits.

As has been widely reported, Pruitt spent more than $105,000 on airline travel in his first year as Administrator, including questionable trips to his home state of Oklahoma, $58,000 on chartered and military flights over the summer, $120,000 for a trip to Italy for an environmental summit, and nearly $40,000 on a trip to Morocco where he promoted natural gas exports, seemingly more relevant to his future political aspirations in gas-rich Oklahoma than the statutory responsibilities of the EPA. Pruitt has also almost exclusively flown first class when on commercial flights, along with at least some of his security detail, and often stays at expensive luxury hotels. Pruitt’s defense of these extravagant spending habits on the taxpayer’s dime was his personal security; however, when questioned about these lavish arrangements, he switched tacks saying he would fly coach from now on, calling into question the legitimacy of his “security” arguments.

Additional wasteful spending issues have emerged in press reports. In 2017, Pruitt reportedly issued a $120,000 no-bid contract to a Republican opposition research firm to track journalists and EPA employees. The contract was immediately canceled after media exposure, but its initial existence raises serious questions about transparency at the EPA under Pruitt’s leadership.

Pruitt has also spent excessively on ensuring secrecy at the EPA: he spent roughly $9,000 on his personal office security, including, the addition of biometric locks for his office and, at his request, a $3,000 sweep of his office to ensure it wasn’t bugged-- again, in a no-bid contract. Administrator Pruitt has not, to date, justified to Congress or the public the extreme secrecy and security on which he has expended to many taxpayer dollars.

Acting Counter to the Mission of the EPA

The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. Administrator Pruitt has repeatedly directed the agency to act counter to that mission.

Pruitt has taken efforts to weaken the agency of its scientific expertise. He has marginalized staff experts, refusing to meet with them, and actively worked to reduce the size of the agency. Some 700 employees have left the agency and another 2,000 positions may be eliminated. These moves, combined with draconian budget cuts, would shrink staffing levels to those of the Reagan administration, before Congress expanded EPA's responsibilities under the 1990 Clean Air Act and other laws.

The EPA has two major independent scientific advisory boards, the Science Advisory Board and the Board of Scientific Counselors, to ensure the agency’s policies reflect the best available science. Administrator Pruitt has taken steps to remove independent scientists from the Agency’s science advisory panels and stock these panels with industry representatives and scientists financed by industry interests.

Administrator Pruitt has intentionally censored or drummed up public confusion around climate science, which the EPA has stated threatens human health. He personally oversaw the scrubbing of climate change references from the EPA website and has stated that he doesn’t think humans are a “primary contributor” to global warming. Despite near-universal consensus from the global scientific community that climate change is real and caused by humans, Pruitt also attempted the creation of a “red team, blue team” debate over climate science to legitimize outlier voices.

Also notable, though not surprising considering Pruitt’s hiring decisions and extensive personal security requirements, EPA enforcement has dropped precipitously during Pruitt’s tenure. According to the Environmental Integrity Project, Pruitt has slashed the number of civil cases filed against polluters by 44 percent and civil penalties have fallen by almost half, compared with averages from the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations. Lax enforcement of our environmental laws directly undermines EPA’s core mission of protecting public health and the environment.

Equally concerning is Pruitt’s politicization of the grant-making process, assigning political aide John Konkus to review all EPA grants. Traditionally, scientific experts-- not political appointees-- review EPA grants awards. Konkus has no scientific background or expertise, ensuring that grants will be judged by political criteria rather than on their scientific and technical merits. Konkus’ impartiality is called into question because, in addition to signing off on EPA grants, he is consulting for private clients part-time.

Similarly, the regulatory mission of the EPA is in danger. Pruitt has moved to rollback or review nearly 50 existing regulations protecting the air, water, and climate, many of which would help prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths and saved billions of dollars in public health benefits.

A snapshot of the regulations is as follows:
Pruitt initiated the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would limit  carbon pollution, and also reduce emissions of other harmful pollutants from power plants that can adversely affect public health.
Pruitt rescinded the Clean Water Rule, critical for safeguarding the drinking water that more than 117 million Americans.
Pruitt withdrew a 1995 Clean Air Act guidance that protects people against cancer-causing air pollutants. This change will increase hazardous air pollution from major industrial polluters on nearly 200 pollutants, including arsenic, lead, and mercury.
Pruitt has failed to enforce a rule that strengthened limits on ozone pollution, which causes smog.
Pruitt recently moved to roll back federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, which will lead to more harmful air pollution and less efficient vehicles, forcing consumers to pay more at the pump.
The EPA is delayed, and is expected to propose to weaken, limits on chemicals like arsenic, lead, and mercury that power plants dump into waterways.
Pruitt withdrew a proposed ban on, chlorpyrifos, a commonly used pesticide that can damage the nervous system, despite the EPA's own scientists arguing risks to human health.
Pruitt granted an industry request to reconsider the coal ash rule, which set national standards for the disposal of toxic coal residue, and has proposed to weaken those standards.
The EPA plans to revise an Obama-era rule that prevents farmworkers younger than 18 from applying dangerous pesticides, threatening the health of children.
For these reasons, we ask that you fire Scott Pruitt from the Environmental Protection Agency immediately. A man under numerous investigations both for ethical concerns and wasteful spending, who has actively moved to undermine environmental rules and regulations at industry request, is antithetical to the job of EPA Administrator. Mr. Pruitt needs to go.
At the same time, Liam Stack at the NY Times, was developing a compendium of what makes Pruitt unfit to serve. Stack’s story is all about private jets and first-class flying (including a 5 day $40,000 boondoggle for himself and some aides to Morocco; expensive furniture, some of it bulletproof; an expanded, 20 member, 24 hour security detail; flashing lights and sirens for his motorcade (unlike any other Cabinet members); and an office security booth.

“He wanted to be treated like he was the president,” said David Schnare, a prominent conservative lawyer and climate change skeptic, who served on the Trump administration transition team at the E.P.A., after an earlier 30-year stint at the agency that started in the late 1970s.

Kara Eastman in the progressive Democrat running for Congress in Nebraska's second district (Omaha) Even if the incumbent, Don Bacon is clueless, Kara understands exactly why Pruitt is a danger to her community. "Omaha," she told us this morning, "is the largest residential Superfund site in the nation as a result of lead contamination from a refinery. I have seen first-hand how an entire community and its children can be affected by industry when left to its own devices. We need and deserve ethical, strong leadership from the EPA and Pruitt has proven himself to be unfit."

Goal ThermometerPaul Clements is running in MI-06, in southwestern Michigan. A longtime environmental activist, he also feels that Pruitt is as unfit to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, as Trump is unfit to serve as President of the United States. “But why, should Pruitt,” he asked, “be fired? Is it the unethical behavior, the waste of taxpayer money, or subverting the mission of the EPA? Okay, this is a little like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but bear with me. Unethical behavior shows that he is personally unfit to serve in a position of such responsibility. When leaders fail to maintain ethical standards, it is not only the harm to victims of the wrong decisions. It’s that ethical standards cannot be maintained in society. What about that $40,000 desk? Well, it’s outrageous. It probably isn’t going to harm the EPA’s ability to carry out its mission, but the other side of this self-aggrandizing egotism is contempt for citizens. These are, however, symptoms. Al Capone was jailed for tax evasion, and that was good enough, but Eliot Ness brought him down because he was a murderous gangster. Pruitt is unfit to serve because the EPA is our federal agency for environmental protection, and Pruitt is undermining its capacity to carry out its mission. The environment is suffering due to Pruitt. It just so happens that at this moment, global climate change is coming at us like a slow-moving tsunami. At this particular moment, the consequences of Pruitt’s specific incompetence happen to be apocalyptical. We need him gone. Okay, and it is the President’s job to promote the interests and well-being of the people of the United States, and to defend the Constitution. Robert Mueller is working on the Russia investigation. That’s good enough for me.”

Politico had something funny to add Friday. It turns out that the lobbyist who was allowing Pruitt to live in her condo, says he overstayed his welcome and she had to kick him out and change the locks! He was only supposed to be living in the Capitol Hill digs while he got settled in Washington, 6 weeks. But he refused to leave when his lease ended, “instead asking the lobbyist couple who became his disgruntled landlords to revise his lease several times.”
Prior to Pruitt’s arrival in Washington, Steve Hart-- an energy lobbyist who, like Pruitt, is a native Oklahoman-- had been a friend and supporter of the EPA administrator. He and his wife, a health care lobbyist, viewed the six-week living arrangement as a favor for a friend.

They drew up a lease running from February through April 1, 2017, said the people familiar with it, in order to make sure neither they nor Pruitt ran afoul of ethics rules, which prohibit political appointees from accepting gifts from lobbyists. Under the terms of that lease, Pruitt paid a cut rate of $50 per night to stay in the condominium.

That favor turned into a headache for the couple when Pruitt repeatedly asked to extend his lease. “There were gentle questions regarding, OK, when are you going to leave and what have you ... and they even started sending him ads of places close by that he could rent,” said the first person.

“Scott Pruitt is the Kato Kaelin of Capitol Hill. He is the long-term house guest who takes advantage of his hosts and refuses to take a hint about when it’s time to leave,” the second person said.

… The Harts eventually told Pruitt, who had to be reminded repeatedly to pay his rent, that they had plans to rent the room to somebody else-- and that he needed to find another place to live, according to the people familiar with events. They also informed him in early August that they were changing the locks on their door.
The topper came in a report yesterday from the Wall Street Journal that Trumpanzee’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, told Señor T last week that he should fire Pruitt but… “Though Mr. Kelly and other White House aides have concluded Mr. Pruitt should leave, the president is not ready to fire him… Mr. Trump welcomes the deregulatory measures taken by Mr. Pruitt and also values him as a strong advocate for the president’s agenda.”

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At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should ask manchin and heitkamp about him. They voted to confirm him. Not that they needed to. Had they voted nay, jesus h. pence would have broken the tie.
Even Susan Collins is a better democrap than those two POSs as she voted nay.

were they among the ones who signed the letter? any bets?

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Corporations making millions not having to follow EPA rules anymore will twist arms all over the Congress to ensure that their evil Golem isn't ousted by real human beings. There is no rule of law for corporations in America.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

whoever might replace him will be at least as bad. corporations don't need Pruitt. could be anyone.

At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2:45 pm - I agree with you, but also Pruitt seems to be pretty incompetent as he evidently was in Oklahoma as well. The incompetence can only help to stall many of the things he is trying to do, since he and his staff seem unable to undertake what is necessary to undo many of the laws and regulations he is fighting to gut. Evidently, the EPA must go through almost exactly the same process that was undertaken to pass these laws and regulations in order to destroy them. Their ignorance and incompetence makes it more likely the courts will reject their efforts. Make any sense to anyone else?

At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:58, I totally disagree. The EPA is tasked chiefly with enforcing environmental law and undoing damage already done. They can also create certain safety regimes should they see the need.

Under Pruitt or anyone else, they do and shall simply ignore existing law, regulatory enforcement and whatever safety regimes may emerge. And they can and have, in some cases, simply abandoned clean-up efforts.

So you see the nameplate on the door is irrelevant as long as the dipshit behind the door is a servile trumpista.

Corporations and the kochs will be ejaculating no matter what dipshit is behind that door.

I agree that Pruitt, beside being an obvious oil shill, is a total fucktard. The best guy for that job would be the one who simply destroyed the environment for corporations behind a closed door. Someone who is trying to be as ostentatious as a trump does tend to attract attention, even in this ADHD-addled shithole.


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