Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt reportedly spent thousands of dollars at a fine jewelry and watch store in the nation’s capital, including more than $1,500 on a dozen fountain pens. The revelation comes amid ongoing questions over Pruitt’s financial decisions as head of the agency.
Emails released as part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by the Sierra Club and first reported by the Washington Post on Friday show that Pruitt spent a sizable sum of money at Tiny Jewel Box, a Washington, D.C.-based store.
The news comes one day after Pruitt appeared on the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s “Bottom Line with Boris” to defend his spending habits, where he commented that he cared “so much about taxpayer money”.
In an email sent Aug. 14, 2017, an EPA staffer asked Millan Hupp, a longtime Pruitt loyalist and current head of scheduling, to approve an order from the store, which totaled $3,230.
“The cost of the Qty. 12 Fountain Pens will be around $1,560.00,” the staffer wrote. “All the other items total cost is around $1,670.00 which these items are in process. Please advise.”
Hupp responded, “Yes, please order,” and thanked the staffer.
Each of the pens cost $130, leading to the ultimate total. According to local data from Rent Cafe on rent trends, a studio apartment in Washington, D.C. costs $1,642 a month, barely $100 more than the cost of the 12 fountain pens.
Jahan Wilcox, EPA spokesperson, issued a statement Friday morning arguing that the purchases “were made for the purpose of serving as gifts to the Administrator’s foreign counterparts and dignitaries upon his meeting with them.”
“This adheres to the same protocol of former EPA Administrators and were purchased using funds budgeted for such a purpose,” Wilcox said.
Pruitt has come under fire in recent months for a host of financial decisions. The EPA administrator is the subject of more than a dozen ongoing federal investigations. Among other points of contention, Pruitt has faced questions over a sweetheart condo deal arranged with the wife of an energy lobbyist last year.
The lobbyist in question, J. Steven Hart, had official business before the EPA at the time, and reached out on at least one occasion to suggest potential nominees for the agency’s Science Advisory Board, which is meant to be nonpartisan.
In a separate instance, Pruitt okayed the financing of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth built in the official’s office. That purchase was later found to be a violation of federal ethics rules. Sweeping 24-hour security measures have also cost the EPA roughly $3.5 million, nearly double that of his predecessors’, Lisa P. Jackson and Gina McCarthy, who served during the Obama administration. The official’s premium and business class travel cost more than $163,000 in his first year, per EPA records.
According to a New York Times report in April, Pruitt had previously asked the EPA for a number of specialty items, including the fountain pens. He also asked for coins made without the EPA logo and featuring instead a Bible verse and a buffalo in homage to Oklahoma, his home state. The possibility of including Pruitt’s name around the rim was also suggested. Wilcox, the EPA spokesperson, later said the coins were never ordered.
When queried by lawmakers about his financial decisions during two initial appearances before Congress, Pruitt largely punted, leveling blame at his staffers and critics.
“There have been decisions over the past 16 months that, as I look back, I would not make the same decisions again,” he later said during a third appearance, this one before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, in May. He declined to go any further on the topic.