Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Scott Pruitt was finally made to face the music in a congressional hearing last Thursday.
The beleaguered director faces more than his fair share of investigations, including his scandalous living accommodations in Capitol Hill and the installation of an illegal $43K soundproof phone booth in his office.
Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led the charge against Pruitt and concluded that the EPA director is “undeserving of the public trust.”
In his relatively short tenure, Pruitt has been accused of irresponsible spending of taxpayer dollars on travel, giving exorbitant raises to his favorite staffers, directing EPA employees to use misleading language regarding human involvement in climate change, as well as the aforementioned phone booth and apartment issues.
It’s almost impressive how many scandals he’s been able to get himself involved in in such a relatively short time.
In true administration fashion, Pruitt resorted to the tried-and-true claim that the charges leveled against him are rooted in misinformation and misunderstandings.
“Facts are facts and fiction is fiction. And a lie doesn’t become truth just because it appears on the front page of the newspaper. Much of what has been targeted towards me and my team, has been half-truths, or at best stories that have been so twisted they do not resemble reality. I’m here and I welcome the chance to be here to set the record straight in these areas. But let’s have no illusions about what’s really going on here. Those who attacked the EPA and attacked me are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president’s agenda and undermine this administration’s priorities. I am simply not going to let that happen.” — Pruitt
When in doubt, turn the investigation back on the investigators and accuse them of interfering in the president’s agenda. After all, judging by the Arpaio and Libby situations, it could at least earn him a pardon.
Here are some highlights from Pruitt’s hearing:
REP. BEN RAY LUJÁN (D-NM): Just to be clear, do you run the EPA?
SCOTT PRUITT: I do.
REP. BEN RAY LUJÁN: Yes or no, are you responsible for the many, many scandals plaguing the EPA?
SCOTT PRUITT: I’ve responded to many of those questions here today, with facts and information.
REP. BEN RAY LUJÁN: Are you able to answer that in yes or no?
SCOTT PRUITT: That’s not a yes or no answer, Congressman.
REP. BEN RAY LUJÁN: It’s pretty simple that it’s a yes or no answer, here. There is clear concern with what has been happening, not just by the entire Congress. And I appreciate you being here today, but these questions need to be asked then answered.
SCOTT PRUITT: And we have answered them today.
REP. BEN RAY LUJÁN: And you are not the only one doing these ugly things, these horrific things, these scandal-plagued things in this administration. And I hope this is one of many hearings that this committee will have so we can get to the bottom of this and make sure taxpayers are made whole.
REP. TONY CARDENAS (D-CA): OK, so you’re not taking responsibility for the $43,000 that was spent on your office? You’re saying that staff did it without your knowledge?
SCOTT PRUITT: Career individuals at the agency took that process through and signed off on it all the way through.
REP. TONY CARDENAS: OK, so you were not involved in that is what you’re saying?
SCOTT PRUITT: I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I had known about it, Congressman, I would have refused it.
REP. FRANK PALLONE (D-NJ): In October 2017, right before EPA abandoned the rule-making, Drew Wynne, a 31-year-old small business owner in South Carolina, died while using methylene chloride. Drew’s brother is here today, and I want to thank him for traveling here from South Carolina and continuing to advocate for a ban of this deadly chemical. Were you or others at EPA aware of Drew Wynne’s death when the agency abandoned the ban of this deadly chemical? Yes or no—were you aware of his death?
SCOTT PRUITT: I think it’s important, Congressman, to know that we have a proposed ban in place that is being considered that we’re taking comments on. We haven’t finished that process.
REP. FRANK PALLONE: Yeah. Well, obviously, you’re not going to admit whether you know about Drew’s death. Unfortunately, in February, another 31-year-old man, Joshua Atkins, died using a methylene chloride paint stripper to refinish his bike. I learned about Joshua from his mother, Lauren, who sent me a deeply touching letter. And I would ask unanimous consent, Mr. Chairman, to put that letter into the record, in which she states her hope that her son will be the last to die from this chemical.
UNKNOWN: Can we make sure we see the letter?
REP. FRANK PALLONE: Yes, I’ll give it to you right now, Mr. Chairman. Again, Mr. Pruitt, your deregulatory agenda costs lives. Real people with names, with brothers, with mothers. You have the power to finalize the ban of methylene chloride now and prevent more deaths, but you haven’t done it. Do you have anything to say to these families at this point?
SCOTT PRUITT: Congressman, as I was trying to indicate earlier, there is a proposed ban in place that we took comment on, that we are reviewing presently. There has been no decision at this time.
REP. FRANK PALLONE: All right. Well, obviously you have nothing to say to these families. Look, you say you’re going to do something, but these chemicals are still on the shelves.
For a great recap of the hearing and an in-depth discussion of its implications, listen to DemocracyNow!’s interview with Emily Atkin, writer for The New Republic, and Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.