I don’t know which is more shameful: Scott Pruitt’s overflowing bucketful of outrageous and unethical conduct as head of the EPA, or Wyoming Republican U.S. Sen. John Barrasso’s refusal to hold him to account.
Accounts of Pruitt’s wild spending sprees, kickbacks from lobbyists, patronage hires, taxpayer funded handouts and the ever-increasing list of transgressions exposed by members of his own staff give him a slight edge.
But Barrasso’s protection of his fellow climate-change denier is a close second, especially when coupled with his recent statements about the swell job Pruitt is doing.
For those of you who missed these particular nuggets of disgrace amid the nonstop flood of ethical effluence pouring from Trump’s swamp, a quick recap:
- Pruitt is accused of accepting a $50 a day sweetheart rent deal on a Washington D.C. condominium from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist. Neither you or I could rent an outhouse in D.C. for $50 a night. Pruitt denied the lobbyist had any business pending at his agency, but the the EPA chief regulated several companies he represented. Perhaps Pruitt felt he’d done enough favors for the lobbyist: He didn’t even pay the rent.
- Courthouse News Service reported a whistleblower’s revelation that Pruitt flew first-class to Morocco to promote natural gas exports — a task that has absolutely nothing to do with, and some would argue runs counter to, his job. The allegations include a two day stop in Paris on taxpayers’ money, at least four trips on chartered and government flights costing $58,000, stays at luxury hotels, an absurdly expensive desk and a “privacy booth” for his office — shades of the “cone of silence” on the old TV show “Get Smart.”
- Pruitt gave raises of more than $50,000 each to two of his deputies, then reportedly lied in a Fox News interview that he knew anything about the salary hikes, which he approved, according to The Atlantic.
- The inspector general’s office has agreed to investigate a claim that Pruitt’s policy chief didn’t do her job for three months but was still paid by EPA.
- Pruitt hired a friend with no environmental experience to run the EPA’s Superfund task force. According to The Intercept the new hire is an Oklahoma banker who loaned Pruitt money to buy homes and a stake in a minor league baseball team.
- The director has spent about $3 million, according to the Washington Post, for an around-the-clock security force, an unprecedented expense for the EPA. He’s claimed he’s received numerous death threats — a claim that EPA investigators dispute. He also claims to have been taunted by airplane passengers when he flies with the commoners, thus the need for first-class.
Two Democratic senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Tom Carper of Delaware asked Barrasso — as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee which provides legislative oversight of the EPA — to hold a hearing after they received internal EPA documents disputing the credibility of security threats to Pruitt. Instead Barrasso turned on his colleagues and the whistleblowers. He said he was “deeply troubled” and berated the pair for releasing information about the safety of Pruitt and his family, even though the senators had kept the documents confidential.
The next day the EPA fired the Office of Homeland Security official who showed Whitehouse and Carper the documents.
This partial if lengthy list prompts a logical question for Barrasso: How much corruption will you tolerate in the name of being a team player and pandering to the base?
“With the support of the president, [Pruitt] has been instrumental in returning the agency to its original mission,” Barrasso gushed in a recent press release. “American workers are benefiting from his reversal of punishing regulations.”
Think about the depth of the senator’s disrespect for the environment and American history in that statement.
The Environmental Protection Agency was created by an executive order of Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970 in response to growing concerns about industry’s harmful and unaccountable environmental practices. The EPA has been responsible for administering the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act — both created by Congress and the will of the people — among many other laws that have mandated stricter regulations against pollution and improved the quality of life for all Americans.
I don’t care if Barrasso thinks Pruitt is God’s gift to Wyoming because he believes the EPA chief will turn around the state’s economy (he won’t) by gutting regulations (he will). As chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, Barrasso has the responsibility to look beyond personal political interest and consider Pruitt’s conduct and effectiveness as an agency head.
Hundreds of EPA employees, angered because they have not been able to express their views during Pruitt’s brief tenure, took buyouts or quit and have not been replaced. Under different circumstances this would have drawn the ire of the righteous senator.
In fact, it has. Barrasso certainly didn’t hold back during President Barack Obama’s administration when several Republicans accused the EPA of silencing employees on their climate change opinions.
“The EPA promised transparency; instead it’s putting a muzzle on its employees,” Barrasso said then. “Career employees should not be silenced for expressing an informed opinion simply because it differs from the administration. The EPA must be an open, accessible and science-based agency that respects the fundamental rights of its employees.”
How true. Where is that guy now, when we need him to stand up for science and the rule of law?
But, of course, Trump hired Pruitt to run the EPA like a dictator, and dismantle it in the process. It appears that Barrasso’s assignment is to make sure he keeps his job. Pruitt will ignore federal government rules, flout the conventional measures of decency and dismiss all criticism by people who want his agency to actually protect the environment instead of serving as a lap dog for the fossil fuels industry.
I fear that there may not be a bridge too far and that Pruitt will be allowed to run amuck as long as he continues to destroy what Barrasso calls Obama’s “regulatory rampage.”