Editorial: The end of the line for Scott Pruitt

  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a news conference at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington Tuesday on his decision to scrap Obama administration fuel standards. AP

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Keep your eyes on the revolving door outside the White House Cabinet Room, because it’s about to spit Scott Pruitt to the D.C. pavement. We make the prediction (if it is indeed still a prediction by the time you read this) because Donald Trump told the American people he would “drain the swamp” – and they don’t come much swampier than Pruitt.

The embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has never had the slightest interest in protecting the environment, has proven that he has as much contempt for ethics rules as he does the settled science of climate change.

Let’s start with the recent revelation that Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general, paid $50 a night to rent a Washington, D.C., condo from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist. The EPA’s ethics counsel says no violation occurred because the nightly rate amounts to about $1,500 per month, which is close to market value for a small apartment. That’s certainly a stretch (the Washington Post reported that private rooms in the same Capitol Hill neighborhood rent for an average of $142 per night), but the bigger problem for Pruitt is what the husband of Vicki Hart, the condo’s owner, does for a living.

J. Steven Hart is the chairman and CEO of Williams & Jensen, a law firm that lobbies on energy and transportation issues and counts among its clients Oklahoma Gas & Electric; Cheniere Energy, an exporter of natural gas; and the American Automotive Policy Council, a trade group for the auto industry, according to the Post.

Pruitt’s defenders have tried to dismiss the matter as trivial, but the U.S. Office of Government Ethics guidelines are clear: “Employees should consider declining gifts when they believe that their integrity or impartiality would be questioned if they were to accept the gift. In making this judgment, employees may consider, for example, the value of the gift, the timing of the gift, whether the employee’s actions could affect the donor, and whether accepting the gift would provide the donor with significantly disproportionate access.” Questionable integrity? Check. Questionable timing of the gift? Check. Donor gains disproportionate access? Check.

On the EPA’s website, Pruitt claims to believe that “promoting and protecting a strong and healthy environment is among the lifeblood priorities of the government.” But as the old saying goes, “A man is known by the company he keeps.”

Bargain lodging is just one of the perks of being EPA administrator in the Trump administration, it seems. There’s also the fancy travel. Politico reported last month that Pruitt spent more than $105,000 on first-class flights in his first year on the job, not including the “$58,000 Pruitt rang up on charter flights and a military jet.”

And then there’s the recent Atlantic story in which it was revealed that Pruitt sought large raises for two staffers he brought with him from Oklahoma. When the White House said no, Pruitt found a loophole that allowed him to “reappoint” the two under the Safe Drinking Water Act and process their raises, which were about $85,000 combined.

Scandals don’t seem to bother the Trump faithful much, a fact that their leader relishes. It would be a mistake, however, for the president to assume that his supporters are equally willing to brush aside repeated ethical lapses and now corruption, which is the right word to describe the EPA chief’s condo arrangement.

Pruitt was always a terrible choice for the job he holds, and now Trump has no choice but to send him back to Oklahoma.

Good riddance.