Capitol Hill Democrats are working to ensure that former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt’s scandals never repeat themselves. Lawmakers are proposing a number of amendments to a bill meant to fund both the EPA and the Interior Department, with federal funding set to run out by Sept. 30.
The House Rules Committee is meeting Monday in an effort to push forward a $35 billion “minibus” bill, but Democrats have indicated they will push for a number of amendments to the package. More than 160 amendments have been submitted for H.R. 6147, with a clear focus on the scandal-ridden tenure of Pruitt, who remains the subject of at least a dozen ongoing federal investigations.
Lawmakers want those investigations to remain open. According to Politico, the amendments to the minibus bill up for consideration include a measure ensuring that the EPA inspector general’s office (OIG) will continue scrutinizing Pruitt’s tenure as EPA head.
The EPA OIG has previously expressed that a lack of funding is preventing the watchdog from investigating Pruitt’s scandals. An amendment proposed by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) would reduce the Department of Interior’s Office of the Secretary by $1 million and increase the EPA OIG budget by the same amount.
Democrats have also indicated they will try to force a vote on an amendment pushing for all new EPA rules initiated by Pruitt to go unfunded until the investigations conclude.
The EPA OIG has said it will continue its open investigations, but it is unclear whether that office will also scrutinize newer revelations that emerged closer to Pruitt’s resignation.
That’s far from all that Democrats want in light of Pruitt’s exodus. The former Oklahoma attorney general came under fire as EPA head for extravagant spending on business and first class travel, in addition to ramped-up security measures and dubious purchases ranging from a $43,000 sound proof phone both installed in his office to an order for a dozen fountain pens from a local Washington, D.C. store priced at $130 each.
One of the minibus amendments would see top-tier EPA travel watched closely — it would require the agency to publicly disclose all funds related to such instances within a 10 day period.
An arguably more blatant amendment would bar any public funds from being used to install a private phone booth in the office of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, along the lines of Pruitt’s infamous office addition. Another very specific proposal would prevent the purchase of fountain pens costing more than $50.
Pruitt’s spending habits were hardly the only source of controversy throughout his EPA tenure. In line with the priorities laid out by President Trump, Pruitt oversaw a dramatic rollback of Obama-era initiatives and regulations, a process that has sparked several minibus amendments, including a proposal striking the repeal of the Clean Water Act.
Another source of particular controversy has been a so-called “secret science” effort long-touted by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The lawmaker has called for restricting the EPA’s ability to use scientific evidence gained from private data — such as personal health data — something scientists and experts say would greatly hinder their work.
But Pruitt endorsed such efforts, despite criticism from his own staff, and unveiled a “transparency” rule in April limiting the science used in crafting agency regulations to only that which has all its underlying data publicly available. An amendment directly countering this effort has been proposed by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY). His amendment would restrict the EPA from using its funding to adopt such a rule.
Other amendments proposed include an effort to limit the reorganization of the Interior Department. Democrats have called for an investigation into whether the agency’s mass-reassignment of employees violated anti-discrimination laws.
Off-shore drilling is also included among the minibus amendment proposals, with a number of bipartisan amendments working to limit or block such activities along the nation’s coasts. Energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is under fire as well, with Democrats seeking to deny any such spending for drilling in the protected area. The Trump administration has pushed to open the area up for drilling.
Republican lawmakers have also submitted an amendment that would stop the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from implementing a methane venting rule which seeks to reduce emissions. The Obama-era policy has been unpopular with fossil fuel companies.
Traditionally, only a small number of amendments ever actually receive floor votes. Republican leadership remains averse to Democratic demands, making it unclear how many of the proposed amendments taking aim at Pruitt’s legacy will make it into the final spending bill.