Scott Pruitt braces for tough questions at double hearings on Capitol Hill

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks at a news conference in Chicago on April 19

Since then, another flood of stories has generated even more questions: An EPA inspector general report showing that Pruitt didn't tell the truth when he said he knew nothing in advance about the raises.

Some Republicans, however, came to Pruitt's defense.

Rep. Chellie Pingree of ME recounted Thursday at a hearing how fishermen are anxious about the future as warmer water pushes lobsters farther north.

Internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency say a sweep for hidden listening devices requested by Administrator Scott Pruitt for his office was conducted with shoddy methods and didn't meet US government standards. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, asked. "I'm doing this because as elected officials and public officials, we have the public trust", she told Pruitt.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., and several other republicans on the committee lauded Pruitt's performance at the agency and agreed that reports misconduct were a tool of distraction.

Fiscally conservative Republicans who support Pruitt's policy agenda may join their Democratic colleagues in chiding Pruitt for his use of taxpayer cash.

"Those who have attacked the EPA and attacked me are doing so because they want to derail the president's agenda ..."

Asked about those preparations, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox called the hearings "an opportunity to reiterate the accomplishments of President Trump's EPA, which includes working to repeal [President Barack] Obama's Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States, providing regulatory certainty and declaring a war on lead - all while returning to Reagan-era staffing levels".

Trump has stood by his EPA chief, but behind closed doors, White House officials concede Pruitt's job is in serious jeopardy. But the EPA chief explained, "I was not aware of the amount".

He faced back-to-back hearings Thursday, called formally to consider EPA's budget. In fact, last week, the Office of Government Accountability found the EPA violated two laws when it spent $43,000 on a secure phone booth for Pruitt without getting prior approval from Congress. He also demanded 24-hour-a-day protection from armed officers, resulting in a 20-member security detail that blew through overtime budgets and racked up expenses approaching $3 million. Documents later showed Pruitt's chief of staff signed off on the pay increases, indicating he had the administrator's consent.

"Pruitt's global travel has been criticized despite the fact he has taken fewer worldwide trips and spent less money than his two predecessors: Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson", the document said.

During the second hearing, Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur raised Pruitt's first-class 2017 travels to Italy and Morocco, and questioned why he declined an invitation to visit Ohio to discuss pollution in Lake Erie.

"Let's have no illusions about what is really going on here", he said. And The Associated Press reported in mid-April that Pruitt would fly in coach when he had to foot the bill. Most of those are being conducted by the EPA's inspector general, though a House oversight committee is also investigating.

Pruitt met in his office previous year with the lobbyist, Steven Hart, even though both Pruitt and Hart had previously denied Hart had conducted any recent business with EPA.

Under questioning, Pruitt appeared to acknowledge that Hupp helped him find accommodations in the capital but said her search apparently did not cost taxpayers. "For that reason, for me as an environmentalist, I don't think the regulatory environment is going to suddenly improve with Scott Pruitt gone", he added.

At 10 a.m., Pruitt will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., who slammed Pruitt for demonstrating "a lack of respect for American taxpayers" in his opening remarks, grilled Pruitt about significant raises given to two EPA employees who followed him to Washington from Oklahoma over White House objections.

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