After the White House rejected a request to grant significant raises to two of his top aides last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt used a loophole in a law meant to ease the hiring of environmental experts to give the staffers raises himself, the Atlantic reported Tuesday.
The raises went to Pruitt’s senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt and EPA scheduling director Millan Hupp, the Atlantic reported. Their pay increased from $107,435 to $164,200 and $86,460 to $114,590, respectively. Both staffers had worked for Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general.
The Safe Drinking Water Act allows Pruitt to hire up to 30 people without White House or congressional approval. But instead of using that authority to hire environmental experts needed in certain understaffed offices at the agency, the Atlantic reported, Pruitt used it to give Greenwalt and Hupp the increased salaries he’d wanted — after the White House had rejected his request for the raises, according to unnamed sources familiar with those aspects of the story.
The magazine said it obtained human resources documents showing the pay increases time-stamped two weeks after Pruitt approached the White House about them.
The story comes amid a wave of similar scandals for Pruitt: He rented a townhouse from the lobbyist wife of a powerful environmental lobbyist at well below the market rate; he spent tens of thousands of dollars flying first class in order to avoid people cursing at him; and he brought his comically oversized security detail with him to the Rose Bowl, Disneyland and a University of Kentucky basketball game, according to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The White House reportedly doesn’t appreciate Pruitt’s various misuses of taxpayer dollars — or, at least, it doesn’t like how they look.
Now, Pruitt will face additional scrutiny for his roundabout raises for the two senior staffers: Beginning last spring, Sens. Whitehouse and Tom Carper (D-DE) began asking questions about Pruitt’s use of the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire Nancy Beck, a former chemical industry lobbyist. As an administrative hire, Beck didn’t have to sign the White House’s ethics pledge not to work on issues on which she’d lobbied in the past two years. Did Pruitt use the law to avoid Beck having to sign that pledge? the senators have asked.
In March, the Atlantic reported, the EPA’s inspector general started probing the same questions.
“It’s a complete coincidence that Pruitt went behind the White House’s back and used this in the most unethical way possible, just as the [inspector general] starts asking questions,” an unnamed EPA staffer told the Atlantic. “Now they just have to connect the dots.”
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