In early 2017, according to a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Tuesday from three House Democrats, Pruitt directed his future chief of staff to explore the creation of an EPA office in Pruitt’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though an EPA office with authority over Oklahoma already existed in Dallas, Texas.
The letter — from Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Don Beyer (D-VA) of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology — claims that Pruitt’s current chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, communicated with EPA officials while still technically staff director for the then-chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Words, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).
Jackson claimed to EPA officials that he was writing on Pruitt’s behalf, the Democrats’ letter said.
“In the e-mail,” the letter states, “Mr. Jackson directed EPA staff to identify proposed new office space in Tulsa that included a conference room, secure parking, would be able to accommodate 24/7 security, and included a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for secure communication.”
EPA staff in turn, according to the letter, contacted the General Services Administration relaying the requests “as coming directly from Administrator Pruitt.”
The lawmakers sent an identical letter, which similarly requested relevant communications and plans regarding the proposed Tulsa office, to the General Services Administration.
The proposed office recalls several scandals Pruitt has faced during his tenure as EPA administrator.
The EPA inspector general announced in August of last year, for example, that his office would probe Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded trips home to Oklahoma. Pruitt’s agency illegally allocated funds, in the Government Accountability Office’s opinion, for a $43,000 phone booth in Pruitt’s D.C. office that the EPA first claimed, and then denied, was a SCIF. Pruitt also enjoys an unprecedentedly large 24/7 security detail.
And Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, has repeatedly taken the fall for damaging stories.
Jackson, for example, took responsibility for the five-figure raises doled out to several top Pruitt advisers within their first months on the job. On Capitol Hill last week, though, Pruitt acknowledged he knew about at least one of those raises — just not the size of it, nor the process by which it was attained. He said that Jackson had been delegated authority to award raises.
The same blame-shifting occurred when lawmakers pressed Pruitt on his $43,000 office phone booth. The whole process, Pruitt explained, had occurred without his knowledge or approval.
“I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000,” Pruitt said. “And if I’d known about it … I would have refused it.”
“Establishing a new EPA office in Tulsa may be personally convenient for you, but it seems ethically questionable, professionally unnecessary, and financially unjustified,” the lawmakers wrote Tuesday.
Read the three Democratic lawmakers’ letter below: