WASHINGTON — EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt might no longer be in immediate danger of losing his job, but a key Republican congressman is pressing him for more documents relating to travel expenses and a controversial arrangement he had with the wife of an energy lobbyist to rent a room on Capitol Hill last year.
South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pruitt a letter Wednesday demanding the records because "the EPA has failed to produce all the documents requested on February 20, 2018." according to a news release Gowdy's office.
The committee wants more documents relating to Pruitt's travel by first class and business class, one of several ethical and management controversies the former Oklahoma attorney general has had to explain recently.
Pruitt spent $105,000 on luxury air travel during his first year in office, according to the EPA. Agency officials said Pruitt needed to fly business or first class on a number of flights due to security concerns posed by fellow travelers though a recent internal report showed that “EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific, credible, direct threat to (Pruitt)."
Travelling near the front of the plane "allows the Administrator's security agents to expeditiously exit with him upon the occurrence of a threat," Associate EPA Administrator Troy M. Lyons wrote in a March 20 letter to Gowdy.
Pruitt and his allies say what he spent on travel is in line and in some cases cheaper than prior administrators.
Gowdy is still also seeking records related to Pruitt's rental agreement including "documents and communications referring or relating to:"
the lease, where Pruitt was able to stay in the bedroom of a condo building owned by Vicki Hart. Hart's husband, Steve, is a prominent energy lobbyist whose firm has represented clients doing business with the EPA. Pruitt paid $50 per night but only had to pay for those occasions when he used the bedroom which critics have said was well below market rate for the arrangement.
the conclusion by EPA ethics officials who reviewed the lease agreement months after Pruitt had left the apartment that the arrangement did not appear to violate agency protocol.
whether Pruitt's use of the apartment was consistent with the terms of the lease. Several media outlets have reported that the administrator's college-age daughter stayed in a separate bedroom while she interned during the summer for the White House.
Gowdy instructed Pruitt to provide the documents by April 25.
Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for Pruitt, said “We will respond to Chairman Gowdy through the proper channel.”
A number of lawmakers, including at least three Republicans, have called for the president to fire Pruitt over the issues. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chief of Staff John F. Kelly urged President Trump to fire him.
Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club which has roundly slammed Pruitt for rolling back Obama-era environmental rules, called for Pruitt's ouster.
“In any other job, failing to provide required information for nearly two months would be grounds for termination," she said referring to the time Pruitt has been given to provide the records. "Scott Pruitt should be no exception. It’s well past time to boot Pruitt from the EPA.”
But prominent conservatives who applaud Pruitt's deregulatory agenda have ralliedto his side. And Trump has continued to back his embattled Cabinet member, praising him last week for being "very courageous" and doing a "fantastic job."
On Saturday, Trump tweeted that while Pruitt's security costs "was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!"