Dear Senators Cardin and Van Hollen:
Indivisible Montgomery, a grassroots organization with 1,600 member from Montgomery County, MD, encourages you to exercise your oversight authority on the Environment and Public Works Committee to examine the unethical behavior, and potential violations of law, by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Prior to and throughout his tenure, Pruitt has made multiple public statements indicating his opposition and/or lack of commitment to the mission of the EPA. Each week, we learn about new conflicts of interest, secret conversations with industry leaders, and decision-making practices that display an utter disregard for the Administrative Procedure Act. Repeal of the closing of the glider truck loophole, which was even opposed by the American Trucking Association, is one of many cases where he has ignored a wide range of stakeholders in favor of a small handful of influential, well-connected individuals. Moreover, Pruitt’s publicly stated skepticism about climate science is stunning, as leader of the Federal agency whose mission is to protect human health and the environment.
However, Pruitt’s environmentally destructive agenda is only one facet of his unsuitability for his current position. In addition to the frequent news stories about backroom deals and industry-friendly rule changes, the scandals surrounding Pruitt come so quickly, it is difficult to keep track of them all.
The EPA’s Office of Inspector General is currently investigating Pruitt’s spending, including his use of costly private and military flights. When he did use commercial airlines, he flew first-class, costing the taxpayers several times more than business or coach fare. Federal travel regulations require that employees “exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business…and therefore, should consider the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs.” Agencies may authorize first-class travel in rare circumstances, one of which is when coach class accommodations would endanger the traveler’s life or government property. Pruitt has received this security exception frequently over the past year, though it seems that it is his comfort, not his life, which is in danger.
While on the road, Pruitt often stays at high-end hotels and releases minimal information about his schedule and meetings. The EPA Administrator is a public official whose schedule should be known to the public he serves.
The past week has revealed a particularly disconcerting conflict of interest. Last March, the EPA issued a letter to the State Department stating it had no substantive objections to the expansion of the Alberta Clipper pipeline, a project of Calgary-based Enbridge Energy–despite this company receiving the second largest fine in the history of the Clean Water Act for a 2010 pipeline rupture that released hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo river. However, as the New York Times recently reported, at the time of this decision Pruitt was renting a condominium owned in part by the wife of the chairman of Williams & Jensen, a lobbying firm retained by Enbridge Energy to lobby on “issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines.”
The rental price of fifty dollars a day is well below market value for similar rentals in the area, but even more egregious, was prorated for only the days that Pruitt was in residence. Such an arrangement is unheard of, and represents a special consideration given to the Administrator, which is likely in violation of both Federal statutes and Executive Branch rules prohibiting gifts from prohibited sources, including but not limited to the gift ban under Executive Order #13770 issued by President Trump on January 28, 2017.
A brief online survey of rental properties showed 61 units available in the same area, many of which are presumably not owned by the family of a lobbying firm’s CEO, with business before the Agency. Such an obvious conflict of interest and the quid-pro-quo corruption it potentially enabled must be fully investigated to restore faith in the Agency’s decision-making process.
Congress and the EPW committee must exercise its oversight responsibilities in this matter. Indivisible Montgomery strongly urges you to act to put an end to this blatant corruption in our government.
Thank you for your consideration,
Christopher L. Pickett, Ph.D.