Science

A short history of Scott Pruitt’s scandals from the big to the bizarre

For having only been in office a little over a year, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has certainly had an eventful tenure. Hardly one day goes by that the news isn’t awash with some new scandal he’s gotten himself into.

First, it was the unnecessary $43,000 soundproof phone booth he got installed at his office. Then, it was the $50 a night condo deal tied to an energy lobbyist. Lately, however, the scandals have gotten more and more ridiculous — there are reports of Pruitt asking his staffers to scout for a Trump hotel mattress and Ritz-Carlton hotel moisturizing cream. What’s up with this man and his obsession with hotel stuff? It’s all very funny, until you realize your taxes are funding all these laughable extravaganzas — and these extravaganzas might function as a smoke screen for Pruitt’s threats to the environment.

Pruitt is currently under 12 federal investigations for squandering taxpayer money, as well as abusing his power to promote or demote EPA staffers. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump shrugs: “I’m not saying that he’s blameless, but we’ll see what happens,” he told reporters at the White House last week. “Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA.”

So, to help you keep track, here’s a list of some of the weirdest scandals that have marred Pruitt’s tenure.

The One With All the Fancy Travels

Who likes to fly in coach? Literally no one, and Pruitt is no exception. The EPA administrator is under investigation for often flying first class and staying at luxury hotels — all on taxpayer money. For example, Pruitt spent over $1,600 on a first-class flight from DC to New York in June 2017, roughly six times the cost of a coach seat, according to The Washington Post. A two-week trip to Italy last year amounted to about $120,000. And tickets to Morocco cost US taxpayers over $17,600, according to The Washington Post.

Pruitt has repeatedly claimed that the first-class flights were a security measure. After all, who likes to be confronted by angry people who accuse you of “fucking up the environment.” The problem is that previous EPA administrators largely flew in coach and didn’t squander public money on security. But Pruitt is so concerned about his safety that he’s spent about $3.5 million for a 24/7 security detail in his first year in office, according to The New York Times. That lavish spending is also under investigation.

The One Where He Bought a $43,000 Phone Booth

After taking office, Pruitt requested his office be equipped with a soundproof phone booth where he could make private calls. Only one problem: the whole installation cost $43,000 — and the EPA headquarters already had two facilities for secure phone calls. (The Government Accountability Office found the phone booth, which was not approved by Congress, broke two federal laws.) In April, at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Pruitt said those two secure facilities at the EPA HQ are “not right close to my office,” to which Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) replied: “Is it too much to ask you to walk whatever distance it takes to get to that secure line?” Apparently, it is.

The One Where He Changed the Locks

Aside from the phone booth, Pruitt requested that his office be equipped with another fancy piece of tech: biometric locks, which use things like fingerprints plus a pin code to open doors. Again, just one problem: the locks cost almost $6,000, according to the Associated Press. And Pruitt doesn’t even know what biometric locks are. Consider this exchange between Welch and Pruitt at the same hearing in April:

Welch: “What’s a biometric lock?”

Pruitt: “I’m not entirely sure.”

Welch: “No seriously, what is a biometric lock?”

Pruitt: “I don’t know. I just put a code in.”

After Pruitt confirmed that such locks have been installed in his office, Welch asked: “Why?” Unfortunately, his time was up and the mic was passed to Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA). So, we may never know the answer to that question.

The One Where He Wanted to Get to Dinner Fast

When you’re hungry, you’re hungry. And since Pruitt “often ran late,” according to The New York Times, he sometimes requested the use of flashing lights and sirens to avoid DC traffic and get to dinner (or the airport) fast. Pruitt asked for such unorthodox tactics to quickly get to the French restaurant Le Diplomate, for instance. (His driver refused, according to E&E News.) No one likes to eat cold escargots à la Bourguignonne.

The One Where He Looked For a Trump Hotel Mattress

Last week, The Washington Post reported that Pruitt asked an aide to try to secure a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but who wants a used hotel mattress? They’re a receptacle of dead skin, bodily fluids, bacteria, and sometimes bedbugs. It doesn’t matter that the name of said mattress was “Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top.”

The aide also helped the administrator with other personal tasks, like apartment hunting and organizing a family trip to California. The problem is that “federal rules bar public officials from receiving gifts from subordinates, including unpaid services, and from using their office for private gain,” according to The Washington Post. The sad part of this story? We don’t even know if Pruitt was successful at securing the discount mattress for himself.

The One Where He Craved Luxury Body Lotion

It’s not just old mattresses. Pruitt also tasked staffers in his pricey security detail with finding moisturizing lotion on sale at the Ritz-Carlton hotels, according to The Washington Post. His aides were also asked to pick up his dry cleaning — all on taxpayer dime, of course. As with the Trump mattress debacle, asking subordinates to buy body lotion and pick up the laundry seems to be a violation of federal rules.

The One Where He Job Hunted for His Wife

Pruitt also tried to use his clout as EPA administrator to get his wife a job — as the operator of a Chick-fil-A franchise, according to The Washington Post. That’s problematic because public officials shouldn’t use their power to get favors in return, and as with the Trump mattress and the body lotion, Pruitt had EPA staff help with this private matter; one of his aides emailed the Chick-fil-A chief executive on his behalf, The Washington Post reports. The job hunting didn’t go well, however. Pruitt’s wife never completed her Chick-fil-A application.

The One Where It Never Ends

As Pruitt faces the federal probes, more and more details of his questionable behavior as EPA chief are likely to be made public. That means more ridiculous scandals to discuss at dinner, but also more distraction from Pruitt’s dismantling of environmental regulations. Since taking office, the EPA head has worked to roll back several regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan, which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change. Since Pruitt seems to have the president’s support, he might keep his job for a while longer.

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