By Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth
This morning Scott Pruitt is headed to Capitol Hill to testify in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. Nearly one year into his tenure as EPA Administrator, it is only Pruitt’s fourth appearance on Capitol Hill — and he has a lot to answer for.
The most scandal-plagued Administrator in the history of the EPA isn’t a big fan of testifying under oath, which is exactly why Senators need to make the most of his infrequent appearances to demand straight answers and accountability.
Here are four things that Pruitt is desperately hoping no one asks him:
Does Scott Pruitt support the Trump administration cuts to independent oversight?
Environmentalists, Democrats, and many Republicans expressed their horror when the Trump administration proposed slashing the EPA budget by 31 percent. Cuts of this magnitude would undermine basic EPA functions and, in all likelihood, end the agency as we know it. It would be especially disastrous considering that the agency has spent most of its recent history on a starvation diet, with its budget stagnant or declining since the mid-2000s.
Just yesterday, reports broke that the EPA’s own Office of the Inspector General — which has several open inquiries into Pruitt himself — sounded the alarm on the Trump administration’s forthcoming budget for FY2019. The Inspector General wrote a memo to the Office of Management and Budget, saying that its duties as an independent watchdog would face “significant challenges” if it were funded at a proposed $41 million — only 65 percent of what the office itself had requested. Senators should ask Pruitt, does he feel as though the Inspector General has enough money to do its job?
It is only Pruitt’s fourth appearance on Capitol Hill — and he has a lot to answer for.
Who is Scott Pruitt calling from his top secret phone booth?
Eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Pruitt spent $25,000 of our tax dollars to install a sound-proof phone booth in his office. Indeed, the Inspector General opened an investigation into whether the purchase was justified.
One can’t help but wonder who Pruitt is calling in his secret booth, especially given his rolodex full of Big Oil connections. As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, he copy-and-pasted a letter opposing Obama-era regulations written by oil giant Devon Energy onto his official letterhead. When he ran for reelection in 2013, fracking billionaire and now Trump confidante Harold Hamm was the honorary chairman of his reelection campaign.
Has he ever called anyone associated with Devon? Has he ever called anyone associated with Hamm, or his company Continental Resources? What about oil lobbyists or trade associations? When you spend $25,000 on a phone booth, the taxpayers deserve to know who’s on the other end of the line.
Why did Scott Pruitt’s personal banker get to keep his job at EPA after being banned from banking?
Pruitt likes to tout his commitment to the Superfund program. Despite the fact that the Trump administration singled it out for a 30 percent cut, Pruitt insists that the toxic cleanup program is at the heart of the EPA’s mission and his “back to basics” agenda.
In order to streamline Superfund, Pruitt invited Oklahoma banker and long-time friend Albert Kelly into the EPA. At the time Kelly was hired, he had just been fined $125,000 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and only weeks into his tenure at the EPA, the regulator banned him for life from the banking sector. The details that led to this situation remain confidential, but it is hard not to wonder what Pruitt knew about his friend and when. Now that he has received a lifetime ban, Pruitt should be asked what, if anything, it would take for him to fire his friend.
When is Scott Pruitt going to pay back taxpayers for his personal flights?
Like former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Pruitt has a record of questionably lavish travel expenses. Between March and May of last year, he spent 43 out of 92 days in Oklahoma while taxpayers paid for dozens flights back and forth. He reportedly spent $58,000 on four non-commercial flights, as well as $40,000 on an official trip to Morocco to hawk US natural gas exports.
As the Inspector General continues to dig into the appropriateness of these trips, Senators should ask Pruitt if and when he’ll explain his travel and repay taxpayers for any trips found to be unethical.