WASHINGTON-EPA administrator and energy industry marionette Scott Pruitt dropped by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday to talk about his budget for the upcoming year. Since being put in charge of the EPA, an agency he at that point was suing in his capacity as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt’s notion of his budget has included luxury travel-for “security reasons”-lights and sirens as he gallivants around Washington, and the now-infamous $43,000 Cone of Silence phone booth that he had installed in his office at EPA.
There also was that business about how he lived practically rent-free at a Capitol Hill residence owned by a lobbyist. (On Wednesday, Pruitt admitted that he had used his staff to do some house-hunting for him and had not paid them for the privilege. The grift is strong in this one.) So there was the potential for some real hilarity in any congressional hearing that contained the words, “Scott Pruitt” and “budget.”
Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, called Pruitt “a laughingstock” for his insistence that he needed to fly first-class to avoid angry tree-huggers back in the peanuts-and-soda seats on airplanes. “Nobody,” Leahy reminded Pruitt, “even knew who you were.” But the real entertainment was provided by Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico.
The Udalls have a long history of defending the environment against the likes of Scott Pruitt. Tom’s father, Stewart, was Secretary of the Interior under President John F. Kennedy, and his uncle, Mo, a congressman from Arizona, was responsible for creating, among other things, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976 on a platform heavy on environmental protection.
Udall didn’t waste any time putting Pruitt in the skillet. The senator roasted him on uncomplimentary emails directed at Democratic legislators that had emanated from Pruitt’s office, on the $43,000 phone booth boondoggle that Pruitt, in apparent violation of federal law, installed without informing either the proper congressional committees or the GAO. Udall ended by calling on Pruitt to resign.
There is no question any more as to what Pruitt has been about at the EPA. He has been about rolling back as many regulations as possible as quickly as possible, and damn the damage he might be causing. Udall was particularly exercised about how Pruitt has stalled on the proposed ban on methylene chloride, an ingredient in most common painting supplies that has killed a number of people. The EPA under President Obama had proposed the ban and Pruitt simply has refused to implement it.
“The science was at the point for a complete, outright ban,” Udall said. “He takes office and, in the first hearing we had, he told us that we were just going to put that aside until 2022, so after the next presidential election. I said to him, is that your intention? He said, no, we just have it under review. Then we showed him that it was on his website and he said, well, I’m not sure that’s correct. There’s a complete evasion of the issues. We think he’s going to label, rather than ban, a substance that is terribly dangerous. There are families who were up here who have lost family members who were just doing ordinary household chores.”
But the most interesting part of Pruitt’s appearance was his admission-in the passive voice, of course-that a legal defense fund has been established on his behalf by person or persons unknown. This intrigued a number of senators because of the obvious potential for massive conflicts of interest, which are not unknown to the public career of Scott Pruitt. The industries to which he has been unshakably loyal obviously would have a strong motivation to defend him against the now staggering number of investigations into Pruitt’s conduct in office. After the hearing, Udall held a press conference in which he talked about this latest development.
“Why is he not able to rely, if he really thinks that in his official capacity, if he really believes he is doing a good job, why doesn’t he just let the government lawyers defend him?” Udall said. This is a very good question.
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