Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

Watch embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt testify before the US Senate

Watch embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt testify before the US Senate

Scott Pruitt, the embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, vehemently defended himself while facing tough questions about his spending and alleged ethical transgressions at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday.

"What a silly reason you had to fly first class", said Sen. "Nobody even knows who you are".

"The filing that you're referring to was for the first quarter of 2018, and it was for the firm, and Mr. Hart was not listed on that disclosure". "Come on", Leahy said. Such decisions had made Pruitt and the EPA "a laughingstock", he added. He was speaking during a hearing that was meant to focus on the EPA's 2019 budget but that centred on questions about his conduct - including an allegation he had sought to be transported through traffic with flashing lights and sirens.

Udall pointed out that Pruitt - the former attorney general Oklahoma - should have known better.

At one point, the lawmaker asked Pruitt to provide details on how he had enlisted aide Millan Hupp to help locate local apartment rentals for him last summer. Although Pruitt now flies coach, he booked first-class seats in commercial aircraft during most trips past year, with the EPA justifying the practice on security grounds. Pruitt's office boosted Hupp's salary to $114,590 in March, but reversed the raise after it attracted public scrutiny.

In terms of the FY2019 budget, many topics were line items dealing with matters that the senator felt related to Pruitt's past promises, stating "when you [Pruitt] were before the committee a year ago, you said that you would work to return the EPA to its core mission of ensuring clean water, clean air, and clean land, something that we all encourage and support".

Murkowski started the meeting off with acknowledging this, and noting that she had some "legitimate concerns" about his management of the EPA. Udall called it a violation of federal law.

He called the aide "a longtime friend" who used her "personal time" to help him.

Pruitt hedged on most questions posed by lawmakers, including one posed by Sen.

The hearing began with Udall telling Pruitt that "every day there seems to be a new scandal, and you at dead-center... Did you pay them at the time for doing that work?" "I'm being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on [your] security, housing and travel".

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, said he was concerned the legal fund could exacerbate the ethical concerns surrounding Pruitt, especially if it received cash from anonymous donors seeking to influence EPA policy decisions. Under questioning, Pruitt repeatedly tried to pin blame on others. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., said she was "most impressed" with his push to ease regulations and clean up a contaminated site in her state.

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On the legal defense fund, Pruitt said his attorney was working with the Government Accountability Office to make sure it was run properly.

"There have been decisions over the last 16 months or so that, as I look back on those decisions, I would not make the same decisions again", he said.

But Pruitt downplayed his own roles in several instances of excessive agency spending.

Pruitt brushed aside allegations he improperly requested the use of emergency lights and sirens while being driven through Washington in a government vehicle.

"No, I don't recall that happening", Pruitt said.

In addition to the investigation of his email use launched Tuesday; first class travel, 24/7 security detail, the purchase of a $43,000 private security booth, and a $50 per night sweetheart condo lease from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist, Pruitt will soon face another probe, according to Sen.

Pruitt's statement was undercut when Udall held up a February 2017 email from the administrator's former head of security, Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta. "No, I don't recall".

Udall asked Pruitt a surprise question on whether he supports Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump presidential campaign and Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont mocked that explanation.

Van Hollen also asked Pruitt if he would disclose donations to the fund so the public can see who's financing his defense.

At Wednesday's hearing with the 13-member panel, Democratic senators lambasted his record at the agency.

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