Over the past few months, it’s become clear that Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” has been great for his bank account, and those of his cabinet members, and business associates. Several Trump administration officials have had travel and spending decisions questioned, including some who have been fired over less-than-ethical behavior.
The latest in this lineup is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Scott Pruitt, who rented living space in a condominium owned by individuals with ties to the fossil fuel industry. This is not the first of Pruitt’s financial debacles, as he has already been accused of breaking rules about gifts related to travel. Far from draining the swamp of corruption, under Trump’s presidency, it has only become murkier.
In Bed with Big Business
Pruitt rented a bedroom in a Capitol Hill townhouse for almost 6 months, from February until August of 2017. While staying there he paid $50 per night, but he did not pay when he was traveling. Other apartments in the area rent for approximately $5,000 per month, yet Pruitt paid a total of $6,100.
This too-good-to-be-true rental deal because even more suspicious when reporters discovered the condo was owned by health care lobbyist Vicki Hart. She is married to Steven Hart, another lobbyist whose firm does business with fossil fuel companies. While Steven Hart claimed Pruitt was a “friend” from Oklahoma, the Harts also contributed to Pruitt’s campaign when he was running for attorney general in 2014.
During Pruitt’s stay, the EPA had to pay $2,460 for a door that his security team broke when they thought he was ill. Pruitt had left work early that day and did not respond to knocks on the door. The team subsequently took the door out and handed taxpayers the bill.
Pruitt has since moved to another building where a 1-bedroom apartment will set him back $3,100 to 4,500 every month, and the doors will hopefully stay intact. The condo stay was allegedly supposed to be a short-term arrangement while Pruitt found alternate housing. Apparently, he was spending too much time ripping the heart out of EPA regulations and safeguards to find a place of his own for half a year.
Hey, Big Spender…
During his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt has cost Americans not only clean air and water, but thousands of tax dollars. His “work trip” to Italy last year came with a bill of $120,000. He has often booked rooms at expensive hotels, and he has made a habit of flying first-class, allegedly so he does not have to deal with “angry citizens.”
Over the past 7 months, Pruitt has racked up $68,000 in travel costs, including his security team. Such security, Pruitt claims, is necessary, since his mission of rolling back air and water quality standards has made him a target of many in the American public. Pruitt has also taken this security team, which is funded by EPA, on personal trips, such as going to Disneyland with his family, and to the Rose Bowl.
At the same time, the EPA has come to Pruitt’s defense, saying the condo rental arrangement passed ethical muster because Pruitt paid rent. In a strangely ethical turn of events, however, Pruitt was brought to the White House last month, along with 4 other members of the Cabinet, because his behavior does not reflect well on the administration.
Even more recently, Pruitt presented the White House with a plan to substantially increase the salaries of his 2 top aides. When he was refused, Pruitt changed his aides’ status so they were employed under provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which allowed him to determine their rate of pay. This latest action has further upset EPA staff, many of whom were already disillusioned with the way Pruitt has been running the agency.
EPA Protecting Pruitt, Not Public Health
Over the past several months, the EPA has been working much harder to maintain the reputation of Scott Pruitt than the health and safety of Americans. Since he was made director of the EPA, Pruitt’s single-minded mission has been to gut EPA regulations enacted by the Obama administration. While Trump and Pruitt claim they want less of a “regulatory burden” on business, this burden has fallen on the health of Americans.
While ignoring EPA employees and their years of experience, Pruitt has tossed scientists off of advisory boards and held private meetings with fossil fuel industry executives. Pruitt’s EPA has also been postponing bans on chemicals, and refusing to enforce the Toxic Substance Control ACT (TSCA), a bill with support from both parties, which would have protected the health of American workers and consumers from dangerous and deadly hazards such as asbestos.
The latest stories of Pruitt’s corrupt behavior has become all too familiar, as another tale of a Trump official protecting little but his personal interests while “unburdening” taxpayers of their dollars. The only question that remains is how long Americans must wait before Congress or the White House forces him to deal with the consequences. While Pruitt and his allies have just launched a campaign to “save his job,” it remains to be seen whether or not the damage he has wrought is already past the point of no return.