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EPA chief back on defensive over security, ethics

16 May 2018 21:35 (+01:00 GMT)
EPA chief back on defensive over security, ethics

Washington, 16 May (Argus) — US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt faced another bruising day on Capitol Hill as his critics tried to show he was closely involved in actions that have spawned at least a dozen investigations.

Pruitt was more conciliatory today about controversies he is facing over his close ties to lobbyists, lavish travel arrangement and attention to secrecy, saying in hindsight he would have done some things differently. But he continued to deflect blame for many actions and said some of the criticism came from those who opposed his policies.

"I share your concerns about some of these decisions, I want to rectify those going forward," he said at a hearing in the US Senate. "I also want to highlight to you that some of the criticism is unfounded and I think exaggerated."

Democrats spent much of the hearing probing if Pruitt was more involved than he has said publicly. Pruitt said he did "not recall" ever encouraging his security detail to use vehicle sirens and lights to expedite travel in non-emergency situations. Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) moments later released an email from former security chief Pasquale Perrotta indicating he had.

"Lights and Sirens," the email subject line reads. "Administrator encourages the use."

Pruitt continued to argue it was not him but career law enforcement officials who recommended that he have an around-the-clock security detail that has already cost nearly $3mn. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) said that conflicts with a report from EPA's inspector general that said the decision to provide that security came in response to a request from Pruitt.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said Pruitt's actions in office have turned him into a "laughingstock." And Udall said actions such as renting a room from a lobbyist and other actions were the type of "swampy behavior" that President Donald Trump promised to end.

"You have used your office to enrich yourself at the expense of the American taxpayer and public health," Udall said.

Republicans have largely stood by Pruitt. But a few seem to be losing their patience over the string of controversies and what some see as a lack of commitment to the Renewable Fuels Standard. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) yesterday said that if Pruitt pushes changes that cut ethanol consumption by billions of gallons he would call for him to resign.

Trump last week said he still has confidence in Pruitt. But that might change depending on the outcome of by one count 16 pending investigations being led by the agency's inspector general, the US Government Accountability Office and the White House. Pruitt today confirmed reports that a legal defense fund has been set up on his behalf.