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EPA chief Scott Pruitt's long list of controversies

A steady stream of negative headlines involving Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in recent ...

Posted: Apr 7, 2018 7:09 AM
Updated: Apr 7, 2018 7:09 AM

A steady stream of negative headlines involving Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in recent weeks and months has official Washington wondering whether the embattled agency chief can hold onto his job.

During his time at EPA, Pruitt has worked to carry out key elements of President Donald Trump's agenda, overseeing a rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations. But he has also been caught up in a series of unfolding controversies over everything from first-class travel, security expenses, and a decision to rent a room in Washington, DC, tied to an energy lobbyist.

When Pruitt took up his post at EPA, he was already a controversial figure. As Oklahoma attorney general, he sued the agency he now leads over environmental regulations and suggested that the debate over global warming is "far from settled."

Here's a look at the lengthy list of controversies and allegations that Pruitt has become embroiled in during his time at the administration:

- Multiple senior EPA officials, including a career official and political appointees, were sidelined or demoted after they raised concerns or pushed back on the amount of money Pruitt has spent as EPA chief on expenses such as travel as well as his management of the agency, two sources confirmed to CNN.

An EPA spokesman has disputed the claims, calling the employees in question "disgruntled."

- In late March, ABC News reported that Pruitt stayed in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, a lobbyist whose husband, J. Steven Hart, works for a firm that has lobbied on energy issues. A Bloomberg report said the deal on the condo gave Pruitt a price of $50 a night for a bedroom, and only on nights when he slept there.

CNN has reported that White House officials are exasperated by the housing controversy.

- The Washington Post reported that Pruitt knew and approved of a plan to grant large raises to two aides -- a timeline that appears to clash with claims the EPA administrator made in an interview with Fox News earlier in this week. During the interview, Pruitt said he only found out that aides got raises the day before. In the interview, Pruitt said the raises "should not have happened." The Atlantic has reported that Pruitt defied the White House to grant the raises and a pair of Senate Democrats are now calling for an investigation. The inspector general was already auditing how Pruitt's leadership uses "administratively determined positions."

- Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse sent a letter to the inspector general of the EPA that said Pruitt's constant security included even personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.

- The Environmental Integrity Project obtained heavily redacted documents from the EPA that showed the agency spent more than $30,000 on security for Pruitt's 2017 trip to Italy.

- A report from The Washington Post in mid-March said documents the EPA provided to Congress outlined further travel expenses from Pruitt, totaling about $68,000 and including a nearly $20,000, four-day trip to Morocco and a series of first class flights.

- CNN reported in early March that Pruitt was one of four Cabinet-level officials the White House scolded in February over stories about questionable ethics at their agencies.

- In February, questions over Pruitt's travel prompted House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to announce an inquiry into Pruitt's practices, and in response to the committee's request for documents, the EPA did not appear to turn over travel waivers granted to Pruitt for first-class travel.

- Pruitt defended his first-class travel in February by saying it was for security purposes, citing the "toxic environment" in politics and implying he was less likely to face threats in a first-class crowd.

- EPA documents reviewed by CNN in February showed attorneys for Pruitt's office justifying a series of charter flights last summer, including some $14,000 expended on travel around Oklahoma.

- In early October, the EPA inspector general said it was expanding its probe into Pruitt's travel, and the EPA told CNN that Pruitt used both a private plane and military jet to travel four times instead of flying commercial -- at a price of $60,000.

- Government records showed the EPA granted a roughly $25,000 contract last August for a highly secure, sound-proof booth -- known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) -- for Pruitt. Former EPA employees said the agency had already maintained a private room.

- In August, the inspector general for the EPA said it was investigating Pruitt's travel back home to Oklahoma after a hotline complaint and expressions of concern from Congress followed travel records obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project that showed Pruitt spent an extensive amount of time traveling.

- EPA is fighting a lawsuit from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility that alleges the Pruitt administration is deliberately avoiding creating written records of meetings and decisions (so that there are no documents subject to leaking or FOIA) and that Pruitt "uses phones other than his own to deal with important EPA-related matters so the calls do not show up in his call logs."

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