How low do you have to go before your boss fires you?
That is a question many are asking of Environment Protection Agency head, Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump. Last Friday, Trump was asked whether he still had confidence in his embattled head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, who was then sitting just two places away from the President. The predictable reply from Trump was blunt and brief: “Yes I do.”
But for how much longer will Trump be able to hang on to his ideological climate-denying, fossil fuel-loving, crony promoting, whistle-blower bashing, blundering, big spending, security-paranoid buddy?
There are now at least eleven federal inquiries into Pruitt’s activities from congressional committees, auditors and ethics watchdogs, who are investigating Pruitt’s lavish travel expanses, conflicts of interest, private security, management dealings and dodgy rental arrangements, amongst others.
Indeed the scandals keep on coming with a regulatory you could set your watch to: Last week, it emerged Pruitt had met the highly controversial Cardinal George Pell at a five-star “lavish Rome restaurant” in order “to secretly plan a public debate challenging climate change.
Pruitt’s staff then “deliberately removed” the meeting from Pruitt’s calendar after the authorities in Australia charged Pell with sexual assault twenty days after the meeting. The Cardinal denies the charges. Pruitt’s whole Italian trip, which cost a whopping $120,000, including first class travel, is one of the investigations currently underway by the E.P.A.’s Inspector General and the House Oversight Committee.
The investigations are also reviewing:
- Travel: Frequent first class travel by Pruitt in the US at tax-payer’s expense, including the use of private and military jets. Pruitt himself has been accused of “not being forthcoming with records,” when confronted. All Pruitt’s foreign travel from last year is also under scrutiny, including the trip to Italy and spending $US45,000 on a trip to Australia that never happened and the fact that lobbyists helped plan his foreign trips. On one $40,000 trip to Morocco, Pruitt promoted natural gas exports, which was outside of his job remit.
- Accomodation: Leasing a Washington condiment at a heavily-reduced rate from the wife of an energy lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, something I have blogged about before. Last month, the Intercept reported that Hart has “a history of coziness with high-powered government officials” and “that many business opportunities have indeed followed the rental last year of Hart’s prime D.C. location.”
- Security: Lavish tax-payer’s spending on personal security, especially on holidays. His personal round-the-clock-security is reported to include some 19-20 agents, and a fleet of at least 19 vehicles at a cost of at least $2 million a year. According to CNN “the size of Pruitt’s security is unprecedented. No previous EPA chief has ever received a 24/7 security detail”.
- Violating Federal Laws. Building a $US43,000 soundproof booth in his office, which violated federal law, according to the Government Accountability Office concluded Monday.
- Abuse of office: Requesting to travel in a car with lights and sirens because he was late to dinner.
- Cronyism: Accusations of giving unauthorised raises to employees he liked, including large pay raises for two of his closest aides, and then apparently lying about this to Fox News.
- Demoting critical staff. This contrasts with “reassignment or demotion of staff who were attempting to ensure that expenses and other actions were in accordance with the law”. This included whistleblowers.
- Secret meetings with fossil fuel lobbyists. Secret meetings with mining lobbyists where he encouraged people to lobby Trump to pull out of the UN climate deal.
- Conflicts of interest. The Government Accountability Office is also reviewing how Pruitt has handled appointments to the EPA advisory committees, including appointing people with conflicts of interest and links to the fossil fuel industry.
- Use of undisclosed email accounts.
The list is so horrendous that many people have called for Pruitt to be fired. But let’s not forget, Pruitt should not be in the job in the first place.
In the words of one columnist for the Boston Globe “This, of course, is the biggest Pruitt scandal — that a man who believes that climate change is not real, and has never met an environmental regulation he supports, is heading the agency responsible for protecting the environment.”
But even if Pruitt is fired, there will be no cause for celebration. The man who is tipped to replace him is Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, who in the words of the Guardian will “probably continue much of Pruitt’s controversial work to scale back environmental protections.”
So even if Pruitt leaves, we would jump out of the frying pan into the fire.