EPA chief tells senators criticisms against him unfounded, exaggerated

The meeting was purportedly meant to continue a discussion regarding the EPA's 2019 budget but much of the two hour hearing focused instead on Pruitt's actions as administrator.

Six environmental groups on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt for abandoning a rule that would have forced hard-rock mining companies to prove they have enough money up front to clean up hazardous substances released at mine sites. Pruitt is now the subject of at least 14 federal investigations and numerous prominent Democrats, and a few Republicans, have called for his resignation. "Administrator Pruitt was one of the employees who sought and was granted an extension", Kevin Minoli, the EPA's designated agency ethics official, said in a statement to The Hill.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said Wednesday that he didn't recall asking that lights and sirens be used on his motorcade so he could get through Washington traffic faster.

"Your leadership at the EPA is disastrous", Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, told Pruitt, adding that he was just as concerned by the administrator's work to undo environmental regulations. Udall said Perrotta wrote in the email that Pruitt had encouraged the use of the devices.

The controversies have triggered 12 investigations by the EPA's inspector general, congressional committees and the White House.

For his part, Pruitt took the same approach as he did in a pair of contentious House hearings last month, largely steering clear in his opening statement of addressing the dozen probes he is facing on topics such as the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office, a cut-rate condo rental from a lobbyist past year and his domestic and worldwide travel expenses.

The senator has asked again whether Pruitt gave such an order.

Pruitt replied that the "policies were followed to the best of my knowledge by each of the agents that serve me". "I'm being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on security, on housing and on travel", she said. "I also want to highlight for you that some of the criticism is unfounded and I think is exaggerated and I think it feeds this division that we've seen around very important issues affecting the environment".

Pruitt has also faced growing pressure from some Republican senators who are not on the panel over his handling of USA biofuels policy.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, for example, said on Tuesday he would join the chorus of lawmakers calling for Pruitt's ouster unless the EPA chief rolls back the agency's use of waivers exempting refineries from their obligation to mix ethanol into fuel.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska who heads the appropriations subcommittee grilling Pruitt, cast the controversies as a distraction overshadowing Pruitt's policy work. "You have taken a common-sense approach to the environmental regulatory process", said Sen.

"All activity that I'm aware of that was engaged in by the individual that you're speaking about occurred in personal time".

Some changes have been implemented at the EPA since some of the scandals broke, including the addition of a requirement that any spending over $5,000 needs to be signed off by several senior officials, Pruitt told the panel.

"What a silly reason you had to fly first class, because of a danger to you, unless you flew first class", Sen.

Under questioning from Van Hollen, Pruitt acknowledged that his allies have created a legal-defense fund to help defray legal costs associated with the investigations he now faces.

When asked if he would commit to not accepting anonymous donations for the fund, Pruitt said his lawyers handle them and would follow official guidelines.

  • Jon Douglas