US environment agency chief under investigation

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is said to have rented a room in a Capitol Hill neighbourhood condo (left) co-owned by an energy industry lobbyist, for US$50 (S$65) a night - less than a third of the price for similar properties.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt (above) is said to have rented a room in a Capitol Hill neighbourhood condo co-owned by an energy industry lobbyist, for US$50 (S$65) a night - less than a third of the price for similar properties.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON • The White House is reviewing Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's activities after reports he paid below the market rate to live in a condo owned by a lobbyist who deals with issues overseen by the agency, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Monday, citing an unnamed White House official.

Mr Pruitt has declined to comment on the rental arrangement reported last week, and an agency spokesman defended his conduct last Friday and said the lease agreement was in line with federal ethical regulations.

WSJ quoted the official as saying the purpose of the inquiry was to "dig a little deeper".

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed off last March on a Canadian energy company's pipeline-expansion plan at the same time that the EPA chief was renting a condominium linked to the energy company's powerful Washington lobbying firm, Williams & Jensen.

Both the EPA and the lobbying firm dispute that there was any connection between the agency's action and the condo rental, for which Mr Pruitt was paying US$50 (S$65) a night.

"Any attempt to draw that link is patently false," Mr Pruitt's spokesman said in a statement.


EPA chief Scott Pruitt is said to have rented a room in a Capitol Hill neighbourhood condo (above) co-owned by an energy industry lobbyist, for US$50 (S$65) a night - less than a third of the price for similar properties.

Another White House official said few people were coming to Mr Pruitt's defence, the WSJ said, although there is no sign yet that his position is in jeopardy. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ABC News and Bloomberg News reported last week that during his first six months in Washington last year, Mr Pruitt made a deal to pay about US$50 a night - less than a third the price for similar properties - to rent a room in a Capitol Hill neighbourhood condo building co-owned by energy industry lobbyist Steven Hart and his wife.

Mr Pruitt, a conservative who previously served as Oklahoma's attorney-general, is also one of several members of United States President Donald Trump's Cabinet who have come under scrutiny for their travel practices.

The EPA confirmed last month that Mr Pruitt's private security detail accompanied him on first-class flights. Mr Hart's firm represents companies regulated by the EPA, including Oklahoma Gas & Electric, shale producer Concho Resources, ExxonMobil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) firm Cheniere Energy.

Travel records obtained through a public records request showed that Mr Pruitt spent more than US$17,000 in taxpayer money for a December trip to Morocco to promote US exports of LNG, although marketing the US resource is not under the jurisdiction of the EPA administrator.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline 'US environment agency chief under investigation'. Print Edition | Subscribe