Ethics Scandals Plague Pruitt, EPA

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By Ryman Curtis

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is the latest member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet to come under fire from Democrats and outside government watchdogs. The ethical issues began when Politico reported that Pruitt was renting a Washington, D.C. condominium for $50 per night from the wife of energy lobbyist J. Stephen Hart. Since then, a series of other alleged ethics violations have been charged against Pruitt. Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Pruitt on Thursday, April 12, accusing Pruitt of spending past government limits on luxury hotels and purchasing tickets on airlines for frequent flier miles.

The mounting ethical questions have been putting pressure on Pruitt’s already controversial term at the head of the EPA. Drew Environmental Studies Chair Professor Phil Mundo points out that “Pruitt has made some serious policy changes–e.g., starting the process to eliminate the Clean Power Plan (intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) installed under the Obama administration and supporting U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord on Climate change.” These changes have not made him popular with the agency, which has faced the departure and firing of several high-level staff. Professor Mundo says that additionally, “Science has been undermined, and the general goal of rolling back environmental regulation has taken its toll on morale.” The sidelined staff members include former deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski, who was placed on administrative leave without pay after objecting to Pruitt’s use of an expanded security detail consisting of a bulletproof vehicle and 20 agents, as well as high spending on office furniture.

Despite Pruitt’s controversies, President Trump has largely stuck by him. This is a marked change from other cabinet members who have come under ethics investigations. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned after a similar scandal involving extravagant usage of government funds on flights. Yet the President has consistently said that Pruitt had done “a fantastic job.” Other Republicans have also come to the administrator’s defense, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. If Pruitt keeps the support of the President, along with congressional Republicans, he may survive where other members of the Trump cabinet have not.

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