EPA watchdog launches new probe into Pruitt’s email habits

EPA’s inspector general said Tuesday it would look into Scott Pruitt’s use of nonpublic email accounts, bringing the number of federal probes into the EPA administrator’s behavior to an even dozen.

Specifically, the inspector general said it would look into whether Pruitt is properly preserving email records as required under federal law and whether the agency is properly searching all of his accounts in response to public records requests.

Two senior Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Democrats — ranking member Tom Carper (Del.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) — released the letter, dated May 2, confirming the probe.

EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has previously raised concerns about Pruitt’s use of nonpublic email accounts. In response, the agency said it searches all of his accounts when responding to public records requests. Previous EPA administrators also routinely used nonpublic accounts for day-to-day email communications.

The new probe Continue reading “EPA watchdog launches new probe into Pruitt’s email habits”

Trump: ‘I do’ have confidence in Pruitt

President Donald Trump said Friday he continues to have confidence in embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

"Yes, I do," Trump replied when asked if he has confidence in Pruitt today, according to a pool report. They were meeting at the White House with auto executives about fuel economy requirements.

Pruitt is facing a dozen active investigations into various allegations of lavish spending and ethical lapses.

The embattled EPA administrator sat one seat away from the president. White House legislative director Marc Short said earlier this week Pruitt would remain in his post for the "foreseeable future."

Pruitt has faced allegations of lavish spending on his 24/7 security detail, questions over his $50-a-night condo agreement with the wife of a Washington lobbyist who met with the EPA chief, accusations he sidestepped the White House to give hefty raises to close aides, concerns over his frequent first-class flights and blowback Continue reading “Trump: ‘I do’ have confidence in Pruitt”

Pruitt fast-tracked California cleanup after Hugh Hewitt brokered meeting

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt placed a polluted California area on his personal priority list of Superfund sites targeted for “immediate and intense” action after conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting between him and lawyers for the water district that was seeking federal help to clean up the polluted Orange County site.

The previously unreported meeting, which was documented in emails released by EPA under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club, showed Pruitt’s staff reacting quickly to the request last September by Hewitt, who has been one of Pruitt’s staunchest defenders amid a raft of ethics controversies around his expensive travel, security team spending and a cheap Washington condo rental from a lobbyist.

Pruitt has drawn criticism from environmentalists and other critics for letting prominent GOP backers and industry groups influence the agency’s agenda — even as he has kicked scientists off of Continue reading “Pruitt fast-tracked California cleanup after Hugh Hewitt brokered meeting”

Couple who rented condo to Pruitt pays fine to D.C.

The lobbyist couple whose condo EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt leased for $50 a night paid a $2,034 fine Friday for wrongly renting out the property, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs said.

“The owner agreed to pay the fine for engaging in a business without a housing residential license,” the spokesman told POLITICO.

Pruitt rented the condo for several months last year from Vicki Hart. It emerged in late April that Pruitt had met with her lobbyist husband, Steven Hart, despite his denials, and that Hart had also recommended three people to serve on the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board.

The Harts’ condo arrangement with Pruitt was already rocky. The EPA chief was reportedly slow to pay his rent and the Harts eventually had to change the locks.

More congresssional panels digging through Pruitt records

Scrutiny into Scott Pruitt’s ethics woes intensified Wednesday as a growing group of lawmakers’ staff dug through reams of documents connected to the Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s pricey travel and extensive security team.

Staff of the House Oversight Committee met for several hours with Pruitt’s former security chief, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, who oversaw much of EPA’s spending on perks such as first-class flights, a $43,000 soundproof booth and round-the-clock bodyguards. Democratic staffers took part in the transcribed session and have access to the documents EPA has shared with the committee, a Democratic aide said — a shift from the early days of the probe led by Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Staffers declined to comment on the substance of the interview with Perrotta, who has cited personal reasons for resigning from the agency Monday. Sources told POLITICO last month that Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who worked in Continue reading “More congresssional panels digging through Pruitt records”

California and other states sue EPA over auto emissions rollbacks

California and more than a dozen other states are suing EPA over Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent decision to roll back greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars.

"My message to the EPA and Administrator Pruitt is simple: Do your job. Regulate carbon pollution from vehicles," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference Tuesday. "We are not looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration, but we are ready for one."

The lawsuit comes just days after sources said the Department of Transportation is planning to propose freezing fuel economy standards at model year 2020 levels. That could pave the way to a lower EPA greenhouse gas standard as well as an effort to block California from enforcing its own more stringent greenhouse gas standards.

"This move by Pruitt with the help and encouragement of Trump is not going to make America great. It’s going to make Continue reading “California and other states sue EPA over auto emissions rollbacks”

Pruitt’s security, Superfund chief leave as probe heats up

The House committee investigating Scott Pruitt’s spending and ethics scandals will interview the head of the embattled EPA administrator’s security team, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, on Wednesday, a committee aide told POLITICO.

The news comes after Perrotta, who ran Pruitt’s unusual, round-the-clock protective detail, told ABC News he had resigned from the agency on Monday.

Separately, EPA confirmed that Pruitt’s top Superfund adviser, Albert “Kell” Kelly, is leaving the agency after attraction controversy over his past, including being banned for life from the banking industry by the FDIC.

Both actions came days after a pair of congressional hearings in which Pruitt blamed his staff, including his security aides, for his massive spending on bodyguards, first-class flights, a $43,000 soundproof phone booth, a biometric door lock and other unheard-of expenses for an EPA leader. Lawmakers also asked Pruitt about Kelly’s background.

"Kell Kelly’s service at EPA will be sorely missed," Pruitt said Continue reading “Pruitt’s security, Superfund chief leave as probe heats up”

Watchdog: EPA broke law building Pruitt’s secure phone booth

A federal watchdog said Monday that EPA broke the law by failing to notify lawmakers that it spent more than $43,000 to build a secure phone booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt in his office.

The report from the Government Accountability Office focuses on the phone booth, which is one of several items that critics have said showed Pruitt was spending excessively for security measures. Other expenditures included expanding the security staff to provide round-the-clock protection for Pruitt, and first-class travel for the administrator and his security personnel to limit his exposure to potential threats from fellow passengers.

Construction of the phone booth violated the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act by spending well above the $5,000 limit that requires the agency to notify Congress, according to the GAO.

"We conclude that EPA violated section 710 when it obligated $43,238.68 for the installation of a soundproof privacy booth without Continue reading “Watchdog: EPA broke law building Pruitt’s secure phone booth”

Gowdy demands more records from EPA’s Pruitt

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy on Wednesday requested additional documents from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt concerning his first-class travel arrangements and Capitol Hill condo agreement with a Washington lobbyist couple.

While the agency has provided some documents related to Pruitt’s travel arrangements, Gowdy said in a letter that EPA had not provided requested information on waivers the administrator received for first- or business-class tickets.

In addition, Gowdy said records already provided to the agency about the $50-per-night lease in a Capitol Hill condo Pruitt held last year "are insufficient to evaluate compliance with federal ethics rules." He asked for "all documents and communications" related to that lease and associated communications related to whether Pruitt adhered to the terms of that lease.

Gowdy asked for a response no later than April 25.

Mission impossible: Replacing Scott Pruitt

There’s one big reason Senate Republicans are standing staunchly with Scott Pruitt: Confirming a replacement might be impossible.

Even as the embattled EPA administrator faced another day of difficult headlines on Monday, there is no push from the Senate GOP to shove Pruitt out. Instead, Republicans are gently rapping him for his ethical transgressions and praising his deregulatory regime.

There’s no question that GOP senators are growing tired of defending Pruitt. But turning on him would likely backfire, as the shrunken Republican majority would struggle to confirm any EPA administrator, let alone another one as conservative and driven to overturn former President Barack Obama’s environmental rules and regulations.

“I don’t think that would be easy, let me put it that way,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

“I assume it’d be very difficult,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

Pruitt barely got through the confirmation process last time — opposed by Continue reading “Mission impossible: Replacing Scott Pruitt”

How Perry survives in a troubled Cabinet

Energy Secretary Rick Perry once called for abolishing the agency he now runs — though he forgot its name. His biggest policy initiative of the past year went down in resounding defeat. And he was photographed in a bear hug with a coal magnate seeking a special break from the White House.

But that still makes the former Texas governor a success by the standards of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, where several of his peers have been swimming against a flood of ethical and spending scandals.

Perry has avoided the lavish private jet spending that took down former HHS Secretary Tom Price, steered clear of the first-class travel, housing and transparency controversies dragging EPA chief Scott Pruitt, abstained from the $31,000 dining set purchase hampering HUD leader Ben Carson and sidestepped the questionable helicopter rides and political activities on official business that have dogged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Perry — Continue reading “How Perry survives in a troubled Cabinet”

Interior spent $139K on Zinke office doors

The Interior Department is spending $139,000 for new doors for Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office suite, according to records posted online.

The work was recommended by Interior career facilities and security officials, an agency spokeswoman said, not by Zinke.

"The secretary was not aware of this contract but agrees that this is a lot of money for demo, install, materials, and labor," Heather Swift, the spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The award to Maryland-based Conquest Solutions LLC was first reported by the Associated Press. The work involves replacing three sets of double doors, including two that open onto a balcony and leak during rain storms, the AP reported. An existing set of doors to Zinke’s office from a hallway do not have a lock, so the security will be upgraded with the new doors.

Swift said the work is part of a "decade-long modernization of the historic FDR-era building."

"Between Continue reading “Interior spent $139K on Zinke office doors”

Republicans block Democratic bid to halt Pruitt’s first-class flights

A congressional debate over brick kiln and wood heater emissions rules turned into a referendum on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s penchant for pricey plane travel.

Ultimately, House Republicans rejected a proposal today from Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) to bar Pruitt from flying first-class, calling it a purely political tactic that was unrelated to the underlying legislation.

Castor’s surprise effort came amid what was an otherwise routine debate over a bill that would delay EPA air emissions rules for brick manufacturing facilities until legal challenges have played out. Her motion to recommit and send the bill back to the committee with the Pruitt travel language failed by a 186-227 vote.

“There’s no adequate justification for this wasteful spending and abuse of power by Scott Pruitt, and if he enjoys flying first-class and staying in luxury hotels, then he should pay for it himself and not ask taxpayers to foot the bill,” Continue reading “Republicans block Democratic bid to halt Pruitt’s first-class flights”

Trump’s latest strike against regulations: His infrastructure plan

President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan would trigger one of the most significant regulation rollbacks in decades, benefiting not just roads and bridges, but businesses ranging from coal mines to homebuilders to factories.

The blueprint the White House released this week would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to veto the Army Corps of Engineers’ wetlands permits, a power that the EPA wielded during the Obama administration to block a controversial mountaintop coal mine in West Virginia. Industrial facilities like coal plants and steel factories could get 15-year Clean Water Act pollution permits — up from five years — that would be automatically renewed. For some infrastructure permits, the deadline for opponents to file legal challenges would shrink from six years to 150 days.

The proposed revisions to some of the nation’s bedrock environmental regulations are drawing heavy criticism from congressional Democrats — including in the Senate, where Republicans would need Continue reading “Trump’s latest strike against regulations: His infrastructure plan”

Some Republicans scoff at Pruitt’s travel habits

A small but growing group of Republicans lawmakers have lost patience with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s first-class flying habits.

Pruitt’s “blanket waiver" to fly in first- or business-class whenever he travels — first reported Tuesday by POLITICO — is rankling some members of Congress who squeeze themselves into coach for flights to and from Washington nearly every weekend. EPA says unspecified security concerns require the luxury accommodations for Pruitt, but the hefty price tag of his taxpayer-funded travel is getting to be too much for some GOP lawmakers.

“I would be embarrassed to get on a plane, sit down in first class and have my constituents pass me by and see me in first class," said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). "I just think all Cabinet secretaries and all of us ought to fly coach.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) told POLITICO that a coach-class seat "would be sufficient" Continue reading “Some Republicans scoff at Pruitt’s travel habits”

GOP friendly fire imperils Trump nominees

A throng of Republican senators is holding up the confirmations of some of President Donald Trump’s nominees — even as he continues to blame the logjam on Democratic “obstruction.”

At least 11 Republican senators in recent months have disclosed they’re blocking votes on nominees for agencies including the Energy, Agriculture, State, Homeland Security and Justice departments. The vast majority of those delays remain in place while the lawmakers demand concessions on issues such as ethanol regulations, marijuana, disaster funding and nuclear waste.

Such legislative roadblocks are not unusual in themselves: Senators of both parties frequently use whatever leverage they have to extract policy concessions from the executive branch. But the number coming from the GOP side is notable, especially as senior Republicans have raised the possibility of changing the Senate’s rules to make it harder for Democrats to block Trump’s appointees. And the delays are worsening a leadership shortage Continue reading “GOP friendly fire imperils Trump nominees”

Trump energy team draws blowback on Florida drilling exemption

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s abrupt decision to remove Florida’s coastal waters from the offshore drilling plan he issued a week ago sparked a backlash Wednesday, failing to mollify Florida’s congressional delegation, galvanizing opposition in other states and even angering Trump administration allies in the energy industry.

Zinke’s announcement that he would take offshore drilling “off the table” in order to protect Florida’s tourism industry was dismissed by critics as political theater designed to benefit Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is likely to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat this year.

And it set off an outcry in other coastal states whose waters Zinke is seeking to open up for oil and gas exploration, with elected officials calling for the same treatment that Florida got — even as the oil industry criticized Zinke for reneging on the plan to give companies access to lucrative fields off the state’s Continue reading “Trump energy team draws blowback on Florida drilling exemption”

White House tells supporters it will exit Paris deal

Administration officials began spreading the word this afternoon to congressional staffers and conservative groups that President Donald Trump will pull out of the Paris climate agreement, according to multiple sources.

Officials held separate conference calls with representatives from influential conservative groups and congressional chiefs of staff. They also distributed talking points arguing that the 2015 agreement is a bad deal for America.

But the officials offered few details about precisely what Trump plans to announce in the Rose Garden later today, and how the withdrawal from the pact would be carried out, conservative activists said.

According to a person who participated in one conference call, the official indicated that the conservative activists would be happy with Trump’s decision.

The officials did not provide details about whether Trump would outline some concessions for those in the White House who back the agreement, including his daughter Ivanka. Instead, they outlined talking points Continue reading “White House tells supporters it will exit Paris deal”

Tillerson, Exxon set conflict-of-interest agreement

Oil giant ExxonMobil announced late Tuesday it had reached an agreement with secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson over the hundreds of millions of dollars he’s owed from the company.

Under the deal that Exxon said was developed with ethics regulators to comply with conflict of interest requirements that Tillerson sever all ties with the company, the former chairman and CEO would see the value of the more than 2 million deferred shares that he is owed put into an independently managed trust, and the share awards would be canceled. At current market prices, those shares are worth more than $180 million.

And Tillerson committed to sell the more than 600,000 Exxon share he currently owns, which are currently valued at nearly $55 million.

The former oil executive would give up more than $4.1 million in cash bonuses that are scheduled to pay out over the next three years, Continue reading “Tillerson, Exxon set conflict-of-interest agreement”

DiCaprio: Politicians must believe in climate change to hold office

Politicians who deny climate change are unfit to serve, actor Leonardo DiCaprio said at a White House event Monday alongside President Barack Obama.

"The scientific consensus is in and the argument is now over," the Academy Award-winning actor said during a discussion during the White House’s South by South Lawn event. "If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or in science or empirical truths and therefore, in my humble opinion, should not be allowed to hold public office."

DiCaprio did not specifically mention Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump or name any other politicians. He spoke ahead of the premiere of his new climate documentary, "Before the Flood."

Obama declared himself "proud" of his administration’s efforts on climate change, and defended EPA’s rules to limit carbon emissions from power plants.

DiCaprio said most scientists he spoke with in making the documentary favored Continue reading “DiCaprio: Politicians must believe in climate change to hold office”