Ethical and legal questions surround Scott Pruitt’s time at the EPA

Scott Pruitt at Congress

As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faces mounting allegations of legal and ethical violations, Democratic lawmakers last month recruited a record number of federal lawmakers for a joint, non-binding resolution calling for his resignation: 39 Senators and 131 House representatives.

While no Republicans signed on, GOP support for Pruitt seems to be waning. Calling some of Pruitt’s actions and reported misappropriations “indefensible,” Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana told Politico, “You just can’t put lipstick on those pigs. You can’t.”

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico is leading the push for Pruitt’s ouster. The resolution states that Pruitt is unfit for office, not only because of his apparent legal and ethical lapses, but also for policies that fail to protect the environment.

“Our resolution is truly historic,” Udall said. “It represents the most senators to ever sign onto a resolution calling for a cabinet official’s resignation. The resolution sends a clear message: The American people have no confidence in Scott Pruitt, and it’s time for him to go.”

Udall says Pruitt is failing the American people in the areas of public health, worker safety, water resources and air quality.

“These are things that I have cared about from the beginning of my public service,” he says. “Unfortunately, we have a person in the office of administrator of the EPA who does not care about them. He’s working against us, and he’s doing so in such a way that he’s hurting millions of Americans.”

Udall says Pruitt shares President Donald Trump’s suspicion of the so-called “deep state” — government workers who are supposedly working to undermine Trump’s agenda.

“My view of the ‘deep state’ is that these are career scientists and public health people who really want to do right by the American people,” Udall says. “Pruitt comes in, and my understanding is that of the 59 top positions, one-third are filled by people…who worked in industry, and now they’re on the regulatory side. There’s been very little disclosure, and I think there are some real ethical problems there on that, too.”

Several of Pruitt’s actions have also been illegal, Udall says. For example, the General Accounting Office recently said Pruitt violated federal law when he installed a $43,000 soundproof booth in his office.

“It’s clear as a matter of law he should have notified the Congress if he was going to spend that kind of money, so that Congress could have had some input,” Udall notes. “But he didn’t, and he broke the law.”

While some GOP lawmakers privately say they want Pruitt gone, most are wary of voicing their views publicly, Udall says. Others are simply reluctant to take on the president.

“The big problem is that Congress is supposed to do oversight of the executive branch, and that means, regardless of party, you step up to the plate and do your job,” Udall says. “They aren’t doing their jobs in this circumstance.”

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.

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