- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is now embroiled in a number of controversies that could be putting his job in jeopardy.
And on Tuesday, The Atlantic reported that Pruitt gave significant raises to two longtime aides without approval from the White House after the President’s Personnel Office rejected the proposal.
This isn’t the first time that Pruitt has drawn the ire of taxpayers and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Here are eight times Pruitt and the EPA have come under fire from the public.
Pruitt limited employee access to his office
- Nick Oxford/Reuters
Upon assuming his position as the head of the EPA, Pruitt reportedly locked the doors to the floor where his office is located and implemented a new rule that requires agency employees to have an escort to gain entrance.
Some employees, according to a New York Times report last August, said they weren’t allowed to bring their cellphones with them to meetings with Pruitt. Sometimes, the Times said, they sometimes weren’t allowed to take notes either.
“There’s a feeling of paranoia in the agency – employees feel like there’s been a hostile takeover, and the guy in charge is treating them like enemies,” Christopher Sellers, a professor at Stony Brook University, told the Times.
An EPA spokeswoman called the allegations “rumors.”
The EPA approved a 24-hour security detail to protect Pruitt
- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Pruitt is the first EPA chief to have round-the-clock security.
Last year, as the agency planned to hire a dozen more agents to protect Pruitt, the EPA’s inspector general announced he would look into whether the excess security was a necessity or a waste of taxpayer money, CNN reported at the time.
But Pruitt’s office argues the security is needed.
“We have at least four times – four to five times the number of threats against Mr. Pruitt than we had against Ms. McCarthy,” assistant inspector general Patrick Sullivan told CNN, referring to Gina McCarthy, who served as the EPA administrator during former President Barack Obama’s second term.
The EPA paid for a surveillance sweep of Pruitt’s office
Last March, the EPA paid $3,000 to a contractor to do a sweep of Pruitt’s office to make sure there weren’t any covert or illegal surveillance devices.
Pruitt’s spokesman, Jahan Wilcox, defended the sweep by pointing to the “unprecedented amount of threats against [Pruitt],” according to The Hill.
Wilcox also said former Obama-era EPA chief Lisa Jackson had a similar security sweep while she was in office, but a former EPA employee who worked with Jackson told The Hill that she never personally requested it.
Pruitt doesn’t release his schedule ahead of time
- Jeenah Moon/Reuters
Pruitt has also been coy about announcing his official government trips.
In an interview with The Washington Post, EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the agency doesn’t release Pruitt’s schedule ahead of time “due to security concerns.”
When Business Insider’s Rebecca Harrington visited Earth Day Texas in April 2017, event organizers didn’t confirm Pruitt was coming to speak until two hours before he was rumored to appear.
Pruitt has also been criticized for taking expensive trips abroad. Last year, for example, a four-day trip to Morocco cost taxpayers roughly $40,000.
In December, Democratic Sen. Tom Carper sent a letter to the EPA’s inspector general requesting an audit of Pruitt’s travels to “determine whether his activities during each trip are in line with EPA’s mission to ‘protect human health and the environment.'”
The EPA hired a contractor that targeted employee emails
- Max Rossi/Reuters
In December, The New York Times published a report detailing the EPA’s decision to hire Definers Public Affairs, a Virginia-based consulting firm, to monitor media coverage of the agency.
But some EPA employees complained that the firm was actually being used to track the communications of those critical of Pruitt and President Donald Trump.
For example, one employee based in Philadelphia said his emails were targeted by a FOIA request, initiated by Definers Public Affairs, one week after he took part in a rally against proposed EPA budget cuts.
“What they are doing is trying to intimidate and bully us into silence,” Gary Morton, the employee, told The Times.
The EPA said the firm was hired to do the agency’s press clips and denied any wrongdoing.
Pruitt flies first-class due to security threats
- Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Pruitt’s frequent use of first-class airfare has also come under scrutiny.
In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper last month, Pruitt justified paying more to fly first-class, even for trips that are often not entirely relevant to his work as a Cabinet official.
“We’ve had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April timeframe,” Pruitt said. “We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment.”
He also said he is not directly involved in security decisions.
In one example that has come under the microscope, Pruitt spent more than $1,600 on a first-class plane ticket from Washington to New York in June 2017 in order to make two brief television appearances to promote the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
The Washington Post reported that his ticket cost more than six times what two of his aides paid to sit in coach.
Pruitt gave significant raises to two longtime aides without approval from the White House
- Pete Marovich/Getty Images
Pruitt gave significant raises to two longtime aides without approval from the White House, according to The Atlantic.
In March, Pruitt approached the White House with a request for substantial pay raises for two aides. The two aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, had come with Pruitt from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C and worked closely with him while he served as the state’s attorney general. Because both women were political appointees, any raise request had to be given the green light by the White House. However, the President’s Personnel Office dismissed Pruitt’s application and denied the raise proposal.
Despite the White House’s rejection of the proposed salary increases, Pruitt circumvented the President’s Personnel Office to provide his two close aides with raises. Under a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act that was written into law in 1996, the head of the EPA is permitted to employ up to 30 people without White House or congressional approval. After reviewing the provision, Pruitt reappointed Greenwalt and Hupp and now had the ability to directly control their contracts. His two aides subsequently received raises of over $28,000 and $56,000, respectively.
According to The Washington Post, Hupp helped Pruitt and his wife shop for living options last year. Serving as the search’s point person, Hupp got in touch with local real estate firms last summer and went to view properties on evenings and weekends. Pruitt would sometimes visit the properties as well.
Pruitt reportedly paid a below market rate to live in a Washington, D.C. condo connected to an energy industry lobbyist.
According to a report from ABC News, Pruitt stayed in a Capitol Hill townhouse that is co-owned by the wife of energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart in his first year in Washington, D.C. Bloomberg followed up with a report that Pruitt paid $50 a night, which is below market value, for a single bedroom only on nights when he stayed there.
In total, Pruitt paid $6,100 to use one of the two bedroom units in the condo for about six months. ABC also reported that his college-aged daughter used another room in the complex while serving as an intern at the White House.
Hart’s wife, Vicki, is a lobbyist in the healthcare field. Mr. Hart, who serves as the chairman and CEO of the firm Williams and Jensen, served in the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan and is a top contributor to the Republican Party.