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Congress is grilling Scott Pruitt about his ethical breaches

Thursday’s hearings could be a moment of truth for the EPA administrator.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will face questions from lawmakers over his agency’s budget and likely the numerous allegations of ethical transgressions.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will face questions from lawmakers over his agency’s budget and likely the numerous allegations of ethical transgressions.
Jason Andrew/Getty Images
Umair Irfan is a correspondent at Vox writing about climate change, Covid-19, and energy policy. Irfan is also a regular contributor to the radio program Science Friday. Prior to Vox, he was a reporter for ClimateWire at E&E News.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will face a double whammy of hearings on Capitol Hill Thursday that could make or break his career at the EPA. You can watch the C-SPAN livestream here.

The hearings were originally intended to give Pruitt the chance to pitch his agency’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. But members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, including some Republicans, are expected to grill Pruitt over his growing list of alleged ethical lapses.

A tsunami of accusations of improper dealings has emerged since Pruitt’s last trip to the Hill in January, from using sirens to get to dinner reservations to a sweetheart condo deal with a lobbyist to ousting staffers who questioned his luxury travel. These allegations have led to investigations from Congress, the White House, and government watchdogs. The Government Accountability Office already found that the $43,000 phone booth in Pruitt’s office broke the law.

And though his prepared statement for the Energy and Commerce Committee completely ignores the controversies around him, the New York Times reported that Pruitt is preparing for a confrontation with a set of talking points on his long list of scandals. He will argue, among other things, that he flew first class based on recommendations from his security staff and that he wasn’t involved in the decision to bypass the White House to get massive raises for two close aides.

Meanwhile, EPA employees protested outside the agency’s headquarters on Wednesday, decrying budget cuts alongside activists and lawmakers who want to “Boot Pruitt” out of office.

Yet even with all the turmoil, Pruitt is still advancing the conservative policy agenda at the EPA. Earlier this week, he started the process of limiting the science the agency can use to develop regulations. And the budget he’s defending Thursday would cut $2.58 billion from the EPA, a 23 percent reduction from its funding under the last continuing resolution.

Some Republicans in Congress are pleased with Pruitt’s steady deregulation work at the agency, but others, including longtime patrons like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), have expressed dismay about the mounting allegations.

Ultimately, Pruitt’s fate is in the hands President Trump, who already has a full plate with his travel ban before the Supreme Court this week, his nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs Ronny Jackson foundering under various allegations, French President Emmanuel Macron in town for a visit, and his lawyer Michael Cohen getting raided by the FBI.

That means that even if Pruitt fails to convince lawmakers on Thursday that he’s fit to continue running the EPA, he could skirt the ire of the White House once again. Or not.

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