Home NEWS Science At Senate hearing, Scott Pruitt’s spending and ethics once again take center stage

At Senate hearing, Scott Pruitt’s spending and ethics once again take center stage

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt received a less-than-warm welcome from both Republicans and Democrats as he returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a Senate budget hearing, which was dominated initially by questions about his spending and ethics decisions.

“I am concerned that many of the important policy efforts that you are engaged in are being overshadowed because of a series of issues related to you and your management of the agency,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Appropriations Committee. “Instead of being asked about the work you are doing … I’m being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on [your] security, housing and travel.”

While agreeing with many of Pruitt’s policy moves, Murkowski said that when it comes to his ethics, “I do think there are legitimate questions that need to be answered.”

Democrats were hardly as charitable.

“Every day there seems to be a new scandal and you at dead-center,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who called Pruitt’s management of the agency “disastrous” and his tenure there “a betrayal of the American people.”

Udall again called on Pruitt to resign, saying the former Oklahoma attorney general has treated his “position of public trust as a golden ticket for extravagant travel and fine dining.”

Udall has asked the Government Accountability Office to probe whether a recent EPA tweet violated a law that prohibits the use of federal funds for propaganda or publicity. In the tweet, the agency appeared to mock Democrats after the long-awaited confirmation of former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as Pruitt’s top deputy.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) also used his opening statement to tear into Pruitt, particularly the claim that he needed to fly fist class because of security concerns.

“Nobody even knew who you were … You have to fly first class? Oh c’mon,” Leahy said. Such decisions had made Pruitt and the EPA “a laughingstock,” Leahy added.

Leahy was no less critical of the EPA chief’s defense of an “indefensible” budget proposal that would slash many programs. The agency’s mission, he said, is “to protect human health and the environment, not to protect industry friends … not to protect polluters.”

For his part, Pruitt took the same approach as he did in a pair of contentious House hearings last month, largely steering clear in his opening statement of addressing the dozen probes he is facing on topics such as the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office, a cut-rate condo rental from a lobbyist last year and his domestic and international travel expenses.

Under his watch, Pruitt argued, the EPA had made “enormous progress” on President Trump’s agenda, “stripping burdensome costs from the economy” without sacrificing environmental protections.

When Murkowski gave him a chance early in the hearing to address the various controversies that have consumed the past months, Pruitt came as close as he ever has to publicly acknowledging any personal shortcomings.

“There have been decisions over the past 16 months that, as I look back, I would not make the same decisions again,” he said.

But he quickly returned to his past positions, laying blame for controversial spending decisions at the feet of EPA career and political staffers, and saying public scrutiny about him has been driven by groups who oppose the agency’s direction under Trump.

“Some of the criticism,” Pruitt said, “is unfounded, and I think, exaggerated.”

Read more:

Here’s the EPA memo that justified Scott Pruitt’s first-class travel

Scott Pruitt requested, received 24/7 security starting on his first day at EPA

Influential outsiders have played a key role in Scott Pruitt’s foreign travel

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