Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on Tuesday wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general to request an investigation of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s low-cost rental of a room in a lobbyist’s townhouse.
“Whether Mr. Pruitt and his daughter paid market rate is one of several questions important to determining whether the living arrangement constituted a gift from a lobbyist — a potential violation of ethics rules,” Whitehouse, a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote.
ABC News first reported last week that in 2017, Pruitt rented out a room in a townhouse co-owned by one half of a lobbying power couple: Vicki Hart, who specializes in health care lobbying. Her husband is Steven Hart, the chairman and CEO of Williams & Jensen and a frequent lobbyist on energy issues.
Pruitt paid $50 for nights he used the room, Bloomberg later reported. And his daughter stayed in the townhouse, as well, when she was a White House intern, further reporting by ABC News revealed. Pruitt paid $6,100 in rent over six months — well below the usual market rate for luxury living a few blocks from the Capitol building.
The EPA has repeatedly insisted the arrangement was aboveboard, though, as Whitehouse noted in his letter, its ethics officials’ public statements on the matter are dated after ABC News began reporting the story — not from the time when Pruitt rented his room in the townhouse.
Whitehouse continued in his letter Tuesday: “Mr. Hart’s representation of Cheniere Energy, which owns a Liquid Natural Gas export facility, and his lobbying firm’s experience with ‘issues related to the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), approval of LNG exports and export facilities,’ raise additional questions.”
“As you know, a significant purpose of Mr. Pruitt’s trip to Morocco last year was the promotion of LNG exports, an activity that does not fall within EPA’s jurisdiction.”
Whitehouse and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) have also asked questions of the Government Accountability Office regarding another emerging Pruitt scandal: that the EPA administrator may have used the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire a chemical industry lobbyist so that she didn’t have to sign the White House’s ethics pledge not to work on issues on which she’d previously lobbied.
The Atlantic reported Tuesday that Pruitt had also used his authority under that law to effectively give five-figure raises to two top aides after the White House had already rejected his request to approve the raises weeks earlier.
And Pruitt faces yet more scandal, including for his use of his dozens-deep security team for unofficial trips like those he took to the Rose Bowl or Disneyland — another focus of Whitehouse’s — and his pricey use of first class air travel.
Read Whitehouse’s letter to the EPA inspector general below: