Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt is now the subject of at least 10 federal investigations. The agency’s internal watchdog said Friday that it had opened yet another line of inquiry into Pruitt’s spending habits.
In a letter shared with ThinkProgress and other news outlets, EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. told Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) that an investigation is being opened into Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental of a Capitol Hill condo owned by a lobbyist couple.
Elkins wrote that the EPA OIG has received “multiple requests from multiple members of Congress” as well as from calls received by the OIG Hotline asking that Pruitt’s spending habits be investigated.
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) also asked in early April that Pruitt be investigated for “housing arrangements”, “expenses for his travel”, “use of staff and expenditures for security measures”, “approvals of hiring and salaries for certain employees”, and “use of the Administrator’s subordinates’ time”, in addition to “reassignment or demotion of staff who were attempting to ensure that expenses and other actions were in accordance with the law.”
Elkins’ letter coupled with numerous requests from lawmakers have prompted further inspection of Pruitt’s spending habits in addition to those probes already ongoing.
“Some of these matters will be reviewed as part of previously announced and still ongoing OIG reviews,” Elkins wrote. “Some will be the impetus for new reviews.”
For much of last year the EPA head rented a condo from Vicki and J. Steven Hart, a health care and energy lobbyist respectively. The agreement was unusual and allowed Pruitt to pay a small amount despite the expensive rental market in Washington, D.C. — only $50 per night and only on the nights the EPA administrator actually used the condo. Pruitt paid approximately $6,100 for around six months’ worth of usage in 2017, according to Bloomberg.
The arrangement has drawn fire from lawmakers. J. Steven Hart had clients with matters pending before the EPA at the time that Pruitt used the condo. Last week Hart said he met with Pruitt last July at EPA headquarters in an official capacity. Hart previously denied any lobbying in either 2018 or 2017. He left his firm, Williams & Jensen, on Friday, April 20, the day that Hart’s 2017 lobbying was disclosed.
Clients connected to Hart’s firm include fossil fuel companies such as Enbridge Inc., an Alberta, Canada-based multinational energy transportation company. Enbridge’s proposed expansion of the Alberta Clipper line — allowing for the transportation of 890,000 barrels of oil per day over the border from Canada into North Dakota — received EPA approval in March 2017.
Questions about Pruitt’s misuse of funds have circled for months. The EPA administrator has approved substantial pay raises for aides, in addition to racking up travel expenditures. Security expenses and requests for around-the-clock protection have cost nearly $3 million. A soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office also cost upwards of $43,000. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said two weeks that spending was a violation of the law after the EPA failed to inform the House and Senate appropriations committees respectively.
During his first congressional hearing last Thursday — meant to address the Trump administration’s proposed $2.5 billion cut to the EPA — Democratic lawmakers hounded Pruitt for answers on the agency’s spending. But the administrator deflected blame, arguing he was unaware of the $43,000 phone booth expense and leveling blame for various expenditures at other members of his staff.
Republicans have reportedly cautioned President Trump to distance himself from Pruitt but Trump has consistently defended the EPA head, tweeting his support for the embattled official and publicly praising him.
“Scott is doing a great job!” the president wrote on April 7 as concerns over Pruitt’s condo usage began to swell.
Following receipt of the EPA OIG letter from Elkins on Friday, Democratic lawmakers expressed optimism over accountability for Pruitt.
“He obviously hopes that the bad headlines generated by his bad behavior will go away, and that he won’t be held accountable for his actions,” said Beyer, one of the recipients, in a statement. “The Inspector General’s letter announcing new reviews assures us that this will not happen.”
Probes into Pruitt’s spending habits are likely to take some time. In his letter, Elkins said the EPA watchdog would release each of the reviews separately as they are completed.