EPA administrator Scott Pruitt got living arrangements in Washington with the help of his friends in the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report.
On Friday, Bloomberg News reported that in early 2017, Pruitt paid just $50 a night for a two-bedroom condo in the heart of Washington, DC, within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol building, living there for roughly six months. Rather than make arrangements with a real estate broker, Pruitt went directly through J. Steven Hart — the chairman and CEO of Williams & Jensen PLLC, whose clients include ExxonMobil and liquefied natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy. The condo Pruitt lived in is owned by Hart’s wife, Vicki, who is a healthcare lobbyist.
“Pruitt signed a market based, short-term lease for a condo owned partially by my wife,” Hart said in a public statement. “Pruitt paid all rent owed as agreed to in the lease. My wife does not, and has not ever lobbied the EPA on any matters.”
According to Bloomberg, Pruitt was allowed to pay rent for just the single bedroom he was living in, even though the unit itself was a two-bedroom unit. The Associated Press reported that market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in that neighborhood of Washington, DC is typically more than $3,000 per month. However, check stubs obtained by Bloomberg show that Pruitt paid just $6,100 for approximately six months “based on days of actual occupancy.”
Bryson Morgan, a former investigative counsel with the House of Representatives Office of Government Ethics, told ABC News the deal reeked of impropriety.
“It’s not just if [Pruitt] is paying market rent,” Morgan said. “A short-term lease is expensive. Is he given the ability to end it any day? Is this an arrangement any other person could get on the open market? My assumption would be this situation does not involve the hallmarks of a specific fair market transaction.”
Since becoming EPA administrator, Pruitt has taken a friendly approach to the fossil fuel industry while giving a cold shoulder to the environmental groups his agency ostensibly represents. A CNN analysis of Pruitt’s schedule as EPA chief shows that while he has held over 100 meetings with fossil fuel industry representatives, less than one percent of those meetings have been with environmental groups. Pruitt has even held more meetings with fossil fuel stakeholders than with his own staff:
While J. Steven Hart argued that the arrangement was between Pruitt and an LLC owned by his wife rather than himself, Pruitt’s reign at the EPA has resulted in obvious tangible benefits for Hart’s firm. As the AP reported, Pruitt made decisions that positively impacted the bottom line of OGE Energy Corp, an Oklahoma-based power company which paid Hart’s firm $400,000 to represent it on issues relating to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Pruitt held a March 2017 meeting in his EPA office with OGE Chairman and CEO Sean Trauschke and company vice president Paul Renfrow… In October, EPA announced it would rewrite the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation that sought to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants like those operated by OGE.
In addition to OGE, Pruitt also made decisions that helped other clients Hart’s firm represented. In December, Pruitt traveled to Morocco, where he discussed the potential importing of liquefied natural gas products, according to an EPA press release. Cheniere Energy, which owned the only liquefied natural gas exporting facility in the United States at the time, paid Hart’s firm $80,000 to represent it on “issues related to the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), approval of LNG exports and export facilities.”
The EPA inspector general’s office is reportedly looking into Pruitt’s travel and potential violations of proper agency protocol, according to ABC News.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.