Watchdog says EPA did not justify Pruitt security spending

EPA failed to properly analyze the threats made against former Administrator Scott Pruitt before dramatically expanding his security detail and incurring sharply higher costs, the agency’s inspector general said in a report today.

Decisions about Pruitt’s security were made “based on management decisions rather than being supported by a threat analysis,” the Office of Inspector General report said. “As a result, the costs of providing increased security services to Administrator Pruitt have more than doubled compared to the costs of services provided to Administrator [Gina] McCarthy.”

The office that oversees the administrator’s security detail “has expressed a commitment to prepare policies and procedures and perform regularly scheduled threat analysis,” the OIG report said.

Pruitt’s expansion of his security team was at the heart of several of his major scandals. Trump administration officials said the unprecedented round-the-clock protection and first-class plane travel were necessary because of threats made against Pruitt Continue reading “Watchdog says EPA did not justify Pruitt security spending”

Trump issues rollback of Obama’s biggest climate rule

The Trump administration rolled out its proposal for gutting former President Barack Obama’s most sweeping climate change regulation Tuesday — a move that could also block any future Democratic president from trying to put it back together.

The proposal from the EPA goes to the core of the criticisms that the coal industry and conservatives lodged against Obama’s 2015 regulation, which used a novel reading of the Clean Air Act to require states to cut greenhouse gas pollution from the power sector. The replacement from President Donald Trump’s EPA would give states far more leeway to meet more modest climate goals — or even to opt of the program entirely.

But the new rule’s biggest impact could come from the inevitable lawsuits that environmental groups and Democratic-leaning states will file against Trump’s proposal. If they lose, the result could be a court decision enshrining the Trump administration’s hobbled approach to Continue reading “Trump issues rollback of Obama’s biggest climate rule”

Trump fires first shot in California car wars

Donald Trump has declared an energy war on California.

The administration on Thursday proposed freezing the vehicle fuel efficiency standards sought by the Obama administration and moved to end California’s power to enforce its own rules, setting off a legal fight that could create a schism among red and blue states over the pollution regulations for new cars and pickups.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement the proposal aimed to strike a balance "that will enable more Americans to afford newer, safer vehicles that pollute less. More realistic standards can save lives while continuing to improve the environment."

But Democrats and U.S. automakers warned that forcing a conflict with California will create a split where states that follow California’s lead will have tighter mileage requirements than the federal standard, creating a patchwork of regulations that will hamper the development of the next generation of cars Continue reading “Trump fires first shot in California car wars”

Coal executive: Trump falling short on energy policy, but it’s not his fault

President Donald Trump still isn’t achieving all his goals in undoing the Obama administration’s energy policies, coal mining executive Bob Murray said Tuesday — but he doesn’t blame Trump and his appointees.

"I do not believe that they have been as effective as they could be," Murray said at the POLITICO Pro summit in Washington. "I believe that the Trump administration is doing all they can and have. There were many illegal things that Barack Obama and his administration did."

Murray also acknowledged that most electric utilities are still moving away from coal, though he contended they are doing it to be "politically correct."

"They got into the pattern over eight years of Obama of what they had to do to comply with the law," he said. "And they have no desire to change that."

Coal executive wants Wheeler for permanent EPA chief

Coal executive Bob Murray says he hopes acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler continues to run the agency permanently.

“He never wanted that position. He only wanted the No. 2 job,” Murray said Tuesday at the POLITICO Pro Policy Summit in Washington. "But of course he’s in the No. 1 position, and with the election coming he’ll probably be in it for quite some time — I hope permanently.”

Republicans’ razor-thin Senate majority has made many in the GOP question whether another EPA administrator could be confirmed before the midterm election.

Wheeler worked as a lobbyist for Murray, among other clients, before arriving at EPA earlier this year.

Wheeler “cares about the environment, he’s a solid guy,” Murray said. “He worked for me for 20 years. Didn’t want to lose him. But the country has him.”

Cummings demands EPA subpoena for Pruitt’s public records policy

The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee is pressing Chairman Trey Gowdy to subpoena EPA and force the agency to release information about how Scott Pruitt’s aides scrutinized politically sensitive documents before releasing them.

That demand comes after POLITICO reported in May that that political appointees screened releases related to Pruitt as the agency struggled to keep up with a surge of document requests that led to a massive spike in transparency lawsuits.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, said in a letter to Gowdy there was enough evidence that former EPA chief’s political aides clamped down on politically sensitive public records requests and delayed the release of others to justify a subpoena for agency records.

Cummings wrote that a subpoena should seek a host of documents related to the agency’s Freedom of Information Act processes, which he said was justified by EPA chief of staff Continue reading “Cummings demands EPA subpoena for Pruitt’s public records policy”

Ethics office weighs ‘corrective action’ for Pruitt

The federal government’s top ethics official suggested Friday he is considering a "formal corrective action proceeding" regarding allegations of improper behavior by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The head of the independent Office of Government Ethics urged EPA’s in-house watchdog to expand its ongoing investigations to review the latest allegations about Pruitt, including that he used EPA resources to find a job for his wife. OGE will look into the findings of that probe to decide how to proceed, acting OGE Director David Apol wrote in a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins on Friday.

"We ask you to complete your report, as soon as possible, so that we can decide whether to begin a formal corrective action proceeding in order to make a formal recommendation to the President," Apol wrote.

President Donald Trump said earlier Friday that he was "not happy about certain things" with his embattled administrator, although Continue reading “Ethics office weighs ‘corrective action’ for Pruitt”

Ingraham calls for Trump to dump Pruitt after new report

Conservative pundit and radio host Laura Ingraham called on President Donald Trump Wednesday to fire Scott Pruitt after a report that the EPA administrator had an aide pressed GOP donors to give his wife a job.

“PRUITT BAD JUDGMENT HURTING @POTUS, GOTTA GO,” Ingraham tweeted, while linking to the Washington Post report that disclosed Pruitt’s wife Marlyn had secured a job at a conservative legal group.

The tweet makes Ingraham the highest-profile conservative to call for the ouster of Pruitt, who is facing a dozen congressional and EPA investigations into his spending on security and first-class travel, sweetheart condo rental from a lobbyist and using aides to handle his personal business. Ingraham was considered for the role of Trump’s press secretary in 2016, and Trump is a fan of her television appearances and reportedly speaks to her on the phone regularly.

Though three Republican lawmakers have called for Pruitt’s ouster Continue reading “Ingraham calls for Trump to dump Pruitt after new report”

Pruitt spent $3.5M on security in his first year

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s security detail cost about $3.5 million for his first year in office, more than twice what his predecessor spent in the final year of the Obama administration, according to spending summaries released today by EPA.

Pruitt’s security spending jumped as his protective detail roughly doubled in size to provide unprecedented 24/7 coverage and began flying alongside Pruitt in first class on domestic flights. Some lawmakers have recently questioned whether the extra spending was justified by the threats made against Pruitt.

Salaries and travel costs totaled $3,489,981.67 between April 2017 and March 2018. The data was tabulated in quarterly increments. Pruitt took office in mid-February last year.

That’s nearly a 110 percent increase over security spending on his predecessor, Gina McCarthy, in 2016, according to the data. McCarthy’s security costs totaled $1,665,157.28 for the calendar year 2016.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox reiterated that Pruitt Continue reading “Pruitt spent $3.5M on security in his first year”

Pruitt sought 24-7 security from first day, EPA watchdog says

Scott Pruitt sought round-the-clock security from his first day in office at EPA, the agency’s inspector general said on Monday, casting doubt on whether the EPA administrator had actually faced serious security threats when he received the expanded protection.

In a letter to two Senate Democrats, EPA IG Arthur Elkins also said the the watchdog never conducted assessment of the security threats against Pruitt, despite his contention last month that the IG had justified his spending.

Elkins told Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) investigators do not proactively search for threats against Pruitt or other EPA officials, and his office “played no role” in the security team’s decision to provide Pruitt with unprecedented security.

Carper and Whitehouse said in a statement the report “raises troubling questions” about Pruitt’s explanations for his security detail.

“A threat to a federal employee’s personal security is extremely serious, but Continue reading “Pruitt sought 24-7 security from first day, EPA watchdog says”

EPA watchdog knocked Pruitt aides for slowing probe

EPA’s internal watchdog complained last year that Scott Pruitt’s top aides were delaying handing over documents to auditors probing the administrator’s travel practices, according to newly released emails.

That standoff between the EPA inspector general’s office and Pruitt’s team was resolved a month after the IG’s staff flagged the issue and warned that the reticence to release the documents came close to impeding their probe, the emails show. But the incident highlights early tension between EPA’s political appointees and the internal watchdog, which is now conducting multiple reviews of Pruitt’s actions.

And it shows that concerns about the lack of transparency atop the agency since Pruitt joined have rankled people inside the agency as well as outside. POLITICO reported last week that Pruitt’s political appointees were screening documents produced for public records requests related to the embattled administrator, slowing the release of information.

The new emails, released under a Freedom Continue reading “EPA watchdog knocked Pruitt aides for slowing probe”

EPA clamps down on document requests linked to Pruitt

Top aides to Scott Pruitt at the EPA are screening public records requests related to the embattled administrator, slowing the flow of information released under the Freedom of Information Act — at times beyond what the law allows.

Internal emails obtained by POLITICO show that Pruitt’s political appointees reviewed documents collected for most or all FOIA requests regarding his activities, even as he’s drawn scrutiny for his use of first-class flights and undisclosed dealings with lobbyists.

While past administrations have given similar heads-ups to political aides for certain records requests, FOIA experts say this high-level vetting at EPA appears to have increased compared with the Obama era.

"This does look like the most burdensome review process that I’ve seen documented," said Nate Jones, director of the FOIA Project at George Washington University’s National Security Archive.

The emails also show Pruitt’s aides chastising career employees who released documents about the administrator Continue reading “EPA clamps down on document requests linked to Pruitt”

Lobbyist warned Pruitt of ‘angry group of Aussies’

A former lobbyist who helped organize a planned Australian trip for Scott Pruitt warned agency staff last year that the EPA administrator might get an angry reception from officials there who disagreed with the Trump administration on climate change, according to emails obtained Wednesday.

“I think that the trip will be more hostile than what the Administrator may be expecting,” wrote Matthew Freedman, who now runs an advisory firm and is treasurer of the American Australian Council, a nonprofit whose members include Chevron, BHP and ConocoPhillips. Freedman was also a former Donald Trump transition team member who worked in the 1980s for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager who has been indicted in connection with his work in Ukraine.

Freedman’s emails to Millan Hupp, an EPA scheduler and advance staffer who has worked for Pruitt since he was Oklahoma attorney general, show his close participation in planning Pruitt’s visit Continue reading “Lobbyist warned Pruitt of ‘angry group of Aussies’”

Gowdy expands probe into EPA’s Pruitt

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Friday he’s expanding his probe into the alleged ethical and spending abuses by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt one day after his staff met for several hours with a former EPA aide who was pushed out of the agency.

Gowdy’s latest letter is a further sign of the deepening bipartisan scrutiny facing President Donald Trump’s environmental chief, whose critics accuse him of excessive spending on travel, vehicles, staff raises and luxe security features such as a $43,000 soundproof phone booth.

The committee’s new request focuses on the decision to increase Pruitt’s security to round-the-clock protection, contracts to sweep Pruitt’s office for electronic surveillance, his trips to Italy and Morocco, the hiring of an Italian security firm, and travel by Pruitt’s security chief, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta.

The letter comes after the committee interviewed ousted EPA employee and former Trump campaign aide Kevin Chmielewski, Continue reading “Gowdy expands probe into EPA’s Pruitt”

Pruitt’s security chief goaded spending, employees say

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has had a willing partner in pushing for his massive spending on bodyguards and first-class flights, current and former EPA officials say — the Secret Service veteran who heads his security detail.

Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta played a key role in the investigation into mobster John "Junior" Gotti in the 1990s, and he’s boasted of his exploits with women, firearms and luxury watches in a self-published autobiography. Now he’s running security for the nation’s top environmental regulator like a lavishly funded SWAT team, according to interviews with seven people who have worked with him under both the Trump and Obama administrations.

The current and former staffers say that rather than acting as a restraint on Pruitt, who came into the agency a year ago demanding round-the-clock bodyguards, Perrotta has instead egged him on — indulging his requests for a 19-person security detail, high-performance SUV, $43,000 Continue reading “Pruitt’s security chief goaded spending, employees say”

Former EPA staffer: Refusal to OK first-class flight for Pruitt aide prompted firing

A former top EPA staffer says he was pushed out of the agency after he refused to retroactively approve the first-class travel of one of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s closest aides.

Kevin Chmielewski, who previously worked as the deputy chief of staff for operations and handled many of Pruitt’s travel and logistics coordination, told Democratic lawmakers this week that Pruitt had requested his aide, Samantha Dravis, the head of EPA’s Office of Policy, join him in first class on a return flight from Morocco in December, where Pruitt went to promote U.S. natural gas.

Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign staffer, told the lawmakers he refused to sign paperwork justifying Dravis’ first-class travel after the fact "because it violated federal travel regulations," the Democrats wrote in letters to Pruitt and President Donald Trump on Thursday. He said another EPA staffer eventually signed off on the travel retroactively.

Chmielewski said that his Continue reading “Former EPA staffer: Refusal to OK first-class flight for Pruitt aide prompted firing”

Federal ethics officer presses EPA on ‘extremely concerning’ allegations against Pruitt

The federal Office of Government Ethics on Friday urged EPA’s top ethics official to carefully scrutinize the actions of Administrator Scott Pruitt in the face of reports about retaliation against staff members and other ethics questions.

"The success of our Government depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve," wrote David Apol, the acting head of OGE, in a letter to Kevin Minoli, a career attorney and EPA’s top ethics official. OGE released the letter Monday.

Apol specifically flagged Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental agreement, travel and security expenses, raises for close aides and the alleged use of an employee’s time to look for housing. Apol also noted "extremely concerning reports" in the New York Times that Pruitt demoted staff who questioned him. "If true, it is hard to imagine any action that could more effectively undermine an agency’s integrity than punishing or marginalizing employees who strive to ensure compliance Continue reading “Federal ethics officer presses EPA on ‘extremely concerning’ allegations against Pruitt”

Pruitt holding on, so far

The White House is not washing its hands of Scott Pruitt, even as the slow drip of damaging headlines about the EPA chief continues.

One senior administration official told POLITICO on Friday that the White House still stands behind the Environmental Protection Agency leader despite news reports that he spent months renting a room last year in a condo connected to an energy lobbyist — paying just $50 per night to lodge a block from the Capitol. The news followed months of negative headlines about Pruitt’s first-class travel, security costs and political ambitions that are one of Washington’s worst-kept open secrets.

Pruitt’s daughter McKenna also lived in a second room in the condo when she was a White House intern, ABC News reported Friday, raising further questions about whether the rent deal was an unethical favor.

But Pruitt has also been one of the most effective members of President Donald Continue reading “Pruitt holding on, so far”

Pruitt spent over $105,000 on first-class flights

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spent more than $105,000 on first-class flights in his first year on the job, according to records EPA provided to the House Oversight Committee and obtained by POLITICO on Tuesday.

Pruitt has drawn criticism for regularly booking first-class flights rather than the coach tickets recommended by EPA protocol. The agency has said the expensive flights were necessary because of the high number of security threats Pruitt has received.

That $105,000 figure doesn’t include an additional $58,000 Pruitt rang up on charter flights and a military jet to carry him and his staff from an event with President Donald Trump in Cincinnati to catch a connecting flight to Europe out of New York, according to previously released records.

The most expensive airfare listed in the new documents was a $16,217 trip in December to Morocco where Pruitt touted American natural gas exports. Pruitt missed a connecting flight Continue reading “Pruitt spent over $105,000 on first-class flights”

Pruitt’s security threat? A passenger shouting, ‘You’re f—ing up the environment’

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s security team decided last year he should fly first class to avoid confrontations with angry individuals on planes and in airports, an agency official said Thursday as EPA sought to explain the chief’s penchant for pricey travel.

“He was approached in the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him and so forth,” Henry Barnet, director of the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told POLITICO.

“The team leader felt that he was being placed in a situation where he was unsafe on the flight,” said Barnet, a career employee and longtime law enforcement official who joined EPA in 2011.

EPA offered the explanation after five days of controversy over Pruitt’s travel that started with a Washington Post report that he and EPA staff had racked up more than $90,000 in travel in early June.

His critics include Republican members of Congress who Continue reading “Pruitt’s security threat? A passenger shouting, ‘You’re f—ing up the environment’”