Layers and layers: Republican members of Congress held fundraisers in the lobbyist-owned condo at the same time as it was being rented to Scott Pruitt for cheap: https://t.co/JKJK6lmg46— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 3, 2018
Environment Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who has been under scrutiny for his alleged excessive spending, is now embroiled in yet another controversy.
Pruitt and his family members reportedly rented a condominium, for $50 a night, linked to a Washington-based lobbying firm Williams & Jensen. Interestingly, at the same time EPA approved a project for the Canadian energy company Enbridge, which Williams & Jensen has worked for in the past.
With the new project, which was signed off on in March 2017, the agency gave a go-ahead to the energy firm for the expansion of Alberta Clipper pipeline to flow hundreds of thousands more barrels of oil from Canada to the United States.
During Pruitt’s stay, at least three members of Congress reportedly had fundraisers at the condominium.
The EPA and Enbridge have both denied a connection between the rental and the project’s approval.
“Any attempt to draw that link is patently false,” said Pruitt’s spokesperson Liz Bowman.
Although the timing of the condo rental may not violate ethic rules, it does put the agency head and the energy company in questionable light.
Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama and Bush administrations said, “Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the EPA decision.”
The condominium is co-owned by Vicki Hart, who is a healthcare lobbyist and wife of J. Steven Hart, CEO of lobbying firm Williams & Jensen.
In 2010, Enbridge was slapped a $61 million fine during the Obama administration when one of its pipelines spilled nearly 1 million gallons of oil in Marshall, Michigan. After the incident, the energy company argued it has taken enough measures to avoid any such incident in the future.
The White House reportedly opened an inquiry over the below market rate rental arrangement. According to sources, the administration is launching an inquiry to "dig a little deeper" in the incident.
Lawmakers believe this recent controversy might be troublesome for Pruitt.
“I think he’s in real trouble, the perception is not good at all. The fact he has had controversy with expenses … is one of the things I think people are just frustrated with, with cabinet members who seem to want to use taxpayer dollars to fund their own personal lifestyle. And now on top of this, not just the $50 but the fact it was going to an energy lobbyist, it just looks so bad and I think he may be on his way out,” said Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.
Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “You got a guy who is head of the EPA now who is nothing more than a front man for the fossil fuel industry, and that is a very serious problem and the Congress has got to stand up and oppose that line of policy.”
Leading Trump supporter and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also shared similar views.
“If Mr. Pruitt is going to go, it’s because he should’ve never been there in the first place,” he said.
The EPA head is already in the center of several controversies.
Pruitt has been under fire for flying either business or first-class for unspecified security reasons, costing taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars.
Pruitt previously stirred controversy after his travel records revealed he spent at least 43 of the 92 days of March, April and May 2017 in his home state of Oklahoma, raising concerns among critics he was cultivating political relationships in the state at taxpayer expense instead of focusing on his job.
In another incident, a recent disclosure by the agency showed he spent more than $120,000 in taxpayer money for a trip to Italy. The documents showed expenses by Pruitt and his entourage, which included food, commercial travel and hotel costs totaling $90,000 and security detail alone during the trip that cost more than $30,500.
Spotlight, Banner: Reuters, Yuri Gripas