We will update this post as more scandals surface.
Scott Pruitt is a busy man. He’s incisively worked to undermine U.S. climate policies and implement rules favoring the industries he’s supposed to be regulating from his perch as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He has also managed to squeeze an overwhelming number of deeply swampy scandals into his short tenure. Some have been one-offs, while others have metastasized into uber scandals.
In an effort to catalog the growing hurricane of impropriety surrounding Pruitt, Earther has made you, dear reader and lover of government accountability, a handy list. None have been all-encompassing enough to get Pruitt fired—yet—but that may be because he’s so good at what he was brought in to do. And let’s not lose sight of that.
While the details of these scandals may induce rage, they’re only accoutrements to Pruitt’s systematic effort to dismantle environmental regulations designed to protect human health and the environment. They don’t include his asinine views on climate change, filling advisory boards with industry insiders, or his stupid climate science “debate”. Put it all together, and it’s clear why there’s a first-of-its-kind campaign to oust him.
The round-the-clock security
In the first three months as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt racked up $832,735.40 in costs for his 24/7 security detail. That’s more than double what his predecessors, Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson, spent in their first three months on the job according to E&E News, which adds up since Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to ever request a permanent security detail.
Of course Pruitt deserves to be protected, but his requests have at times appeared excessive. According to a letter from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) obtained by CNN, his detail traveled with Pruitt to the Rose Bowl to watch his beloved Sooners get whupped, and Disneyland. During a six-week period, Pruitt pulled up to 36 agents into protecting him, according to the letter. Those agents would normally be working on cases involving pollution and EPA-related crime.
I guess with the regulatory rollbacks, maybe there’s less work for them?
The luxury travel
In an administration rife with luxury travel scandals, Pruitt has still managed to stand out. He’s made the American public pony up $160,000 for travel internationally, including to promote natural gas in Morocco, which isn’t even his job. He’s also regularly charged the public thousands of dollars for first class flights across the U.S., including flight ranging from $1,172 up to $3,610 to attend conferences put on by the fossil fuel and chemical industries, which again, he is supposed to regulating.
Pruitt has claimed he has to fly first class because of “a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment.” Indeed, a fellow traveler reportedly approached him in an airport and told him to “you’re fucking up the environment.” Which to be fair, yes.
But rather than answering for his policy choices to the public, he’s decided to seal himself off in first class. Oh, and his security detail often flew first class with him. 🙃
In early March, Pruitt said he would fly coach “on my very next flight.” No word on subsequent flights.
The private jet
Sometimes first class travel just isn’t luxurious, er safe, enough. Scott Pruitt’s team explored the possibility of leasing a private jet by the month at a cost of nearly $100,000 per month according to a report from the Washington Post. The idea nixed by advisers. Probably a good call.
The sweetheart condo deal
On the occasions when Pruitt wasn’t jet setting, he spent his first six months renting a bedroom for $50 per night—well below market rate for Capitol Hill—from a fossil fuel lobbyist’s wife. The scandal has exploded and includes such lurid details as Pruitt’s daughter crashing there during her summer internship, and Republican fundraisers held in the building. But the most damning part of the whole thing is the EPA signed off on a pipeline expansion for a company that was connected with the lobbyist linked with the condo.
If you think this looks like bribery, you’re not alone. Democrats have asked the EPA’s inspector general to investigate the arrangement and Republicans have called on Pruitt to step down. Even the White House has started an inquiry.
Update: It’s getting even sketchier. The original lease Pruitt had listed Steve Hart, the lobbyist, as the landlord. It was crossed out and his wife’s name was inked in according to the AP, which viewed the documents. (You can see for yourself over at the Washington Post.)
Oh, and Pruitt frequently fell behind on his whopping $50 per night payments according to Politico.
Oh, and the EPA official who said it was above the board has now said, yeah, maybe not so much.
Oh, and one more thing. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) lived in the condo building at one point. She said rent runs $5,000 so yeah, that $50 per night thing is a sweet deal. In an interview with E&E News, she said, “This is not a petty story, this is a full-blown scandal.”
The soundproof room
Update: Installing it wasn’t only sketchy, it was illegal. The Government Accountability Office reviewed the booth at the behest of Congressional Democrats and found Pruitt violated not one, but two laws, because his booth cost well above the $5,000 limit on office furniture and decorations, and because he failed to notify Congress. In doing so, he violated the Antideficiency Act, which can be cause for removal from office, up two years in prison, and $5,000 in fines (don’t hold your breath).
The EPA had argued that the booth is “analogous to other functional items an employee might require to perform his job duties such as a high speed computer, high speed copier/scanner, or television,” which is a pretty weird case to make, but also, can we please get a secret box at Gizmodo Media headquarters?
Sweeping for bugs and installing biometric locks
Also totally normal to spend thousands of dollars sweeping said office for bugs and purchasing biometric locks.
Refusing to release his schedule
Pruitt’s schedule has also been shrouded in secrecy, again representing a break from his predecessors. News organizations have gotten copies of it through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and it’s clear why Pruitt would want to keep it under wraps. His days are largely spent meeting with industry representatives and traveling to and from his home in Oklahoma. He started releasing a schedule late last year, due in part to an overwhelming number of FOIA requests.
Tons of unanswered FOIA requests
About those FOIA requests. There have been a lot of them. The EPA saw a 400 percent increase in FOIA requests last year compared to 2016, according to an analysis by the Project on Government Oversight. That same analysis showed Pruitt’s office has been particularly slow to respond, with 83 percent of cases still open vs. 21 percent agency-wide.
Giving out $120,000 for press opposition research
Pruitt has largely avoided the press outside of friendly, conservative outlets. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying to keep track of journalists. His office signed a $120,000 no-bid contract with a firm with a president billed as a “a master of opposition research” and senior vice president who took part in a campaign to shape negative opinions around Senator Elizabeth Warren through “scathing op-eds and online hot takes.” The news, first reported by Mother Jones, and ensuing firestorm around it caused the EPA to cancel the contract.
General press hostility
Even without an opposition research firm, Pruitt has largely fought against allowing the free press to cover him. The EPA press office attacked an AP journalist after he reported on Superfund sites flooded in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. And more recently, CNN reports Pruitt attempted to only allow Fox News to air his press conference on rolling back clean car rules.
Trickle down corruption is real. The EPA has granted a waiver to John Konkus, one of Pruitt’s top aides, to freelance as a media consultant. The agency won’t say who his clients are, though.
Pruitt also gave two favored aids huge salary bumps of $56,765 and $28, 130 through a backdoor provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act after the White House told him not to. The Atlantic, which first reported the raises, quoted an anonymous EPA official as saying “this whole thing has completely gutted any morales I had left to put up with this place.” Which of course may just be the point.
And in a scandal that likely would’ve disqualified Pruitt from being nominated in any other administration, he once took fossil fuel industry talking points about fracking and slapped them right on Oklahoma state letterhead.
Devon Energy’s response? “Outstanding!”
Using sirens to get to dinner
Pruitt reportedly asked EPA officials to use the sirens and flashing lights to expedite his travel through Washington, D.C. traffic, a perk normally only afforded the president. This included on trips to the airport (where remember, he boarded first class flights) and dinner at Le Diplomate, which to be fair, has four stars and 2,351 reviews on Yelp. Sometimes you get hangry, I guess. And lest you think this was all necessary because he left more than enough time to get to dinner, the New York Times also helpfully notes “he often ran late.”
Reassigning or demoting officials who told him “no”
Do not say to no to Scott Pruitt if you like your job. During his reign at the EPA, he has pushed at least five officials aside who have said no to things on this insane list of scandals you are reading. The New York Times has an exhaustive report, and the list includes his former head of security who put the kibosh on the whole siren thing (transferred), a Trump appointee who pushed back on the $100,000 private jet lease (asked to resign), and another official who questioned other spending habits (on leave). The whole Times story is completely nuts and you should go read it now.
Bulletproof desk (wait wut?)
Admittedly, there is a lot of gun violence in America. But after installing biometric locks and getting 24/7 security, Pruitt didn’t feel safe enough, so he tried to get a bulletproof desk. Cost (along with another desk outside his office): $70,000. Instead he had a settle for a stand-up desk (gotta keep it healthy!) and a sitting desk that “employees gawked at the size and grandeur of...with some comparing it to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.” Like I said, you need to read that Times story, which broke the news.
So many new things in a salacious letter
Kevin Chmielewsi, one of the staffers that Pruitt pushed aside for calling him out for his lavish spending, spoke with five Congressional Democrats about his experience with the administrator because, in his own words, what’s “right is right, and wrong is wrong.” The five Democrats sent letters to President Trump and Pruitt outlining what came out of those discussions. They corroborate much of what’s in this post and add new details. You should seriously read them in their entirety.
The new details include allegations that the sketchy raises were “100 percent Pruitt himself,” that the administrator frequently used the EPA as a travel agent to book events in places he wanted to visit, and that he spent well over the legal limit of $5,000 redecorating his office, including framing an 8x10 American flag. Oh, and that Pruitt let one of his favored aides book a first class ticket for the ill-fated Morocco trip for no reason, and then tried to get it retroactively approved. When Chmielewsi—serving as the deputy chief of staff for operations—resisted signing off in hindsight, he said Pruitt’s chief of staff asked him to resign or Pruitt would fire him. Oh, and Pruitt’s chief of staff also allegedly told Chmielewsi that “the nightmare is now yours” when he started his position. Prescient.
Having three (yes, three!) secret EPA email accounts
The Trump campaign? Very concerned about email transparency. The Trump administration? The Washington Post reports that Scott Pruitt had multiple, unlisted email accounts. That raises concerns that emails may have slipped through the cracks when answering Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails include email@example.com—a standard EPA account—as well as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Because I dunno if you’ve heard, but Pruitt loves him some University of Oklahoma sports.
Democrats are asking for a thorough review. I’m sure Republicans, who raised a ruckus over Obama’s first EPA administrator having two accounts and made Hillary Clinton’s emails a central part of the presidential race, will be down to get to the bottom of it.