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White House Launches Inquiry into Pruitt’s Rent Deal With Energy Lobbyist’s Wife

Lobbyist’s clients reportedly include ExxonMobil, Enbridge Energy, Colonial Pipeline, and Cheniere Energy

This article orginally appeared in Oil Change International

There is a growing political scandal surrounding the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the climate denier, Scott “Polluting” Pruitt.

The White House has launched a formal inquiry into any potential conflict of interest over the fact that Pruitt rented a bedroom in a centrally located Capitol Hill townhouse, which just happens to be co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist.

2013 fracking protest in BalcombePhoto by Greg SkidmoreThe rental agreement between Pruitt and Vicki Hart, the wife of lobbyist J. Steven Hart, “potentially violates the Ethics Pledge you signed on becoming the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator,” Democrats on the House panel on Energy and Commerce wrote in a letter to the EPA administrator.

ABC News is reporting that Pruitt rented the bedroom in 2017 which was partially owned by “Vicki Hart, the wife of lobbyist J. Steven Hart, who was registered to lobby for several environmental and energy concerns.”

The issue is further complicated as Pruitt’s daughter McKenna Pruitt, reportedly also used a second bedroom whilst she interned at the White House, despite the fact that Pruitt was supposedly only paying for one room.

Although a spokesman for the lobbyist, Hart denied lobbying the EPA since Pruitt took the job, this has not satisfied Pruitt’s many critics and the revelations have forced the White to investigate. You can see why people are concerned: Hart’s clients reportedly include ExxonMobil, Enbridge Energy, Colonial Pipeline and Cheniere Energy.

Worried about conflicts of interest, Pruitt now faces questions from members of Congress, too. Yesterday Democrats on the House panel on Energy and Commerce, which oversees the Environmental Protection Agency sent him a letter: Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., wrote: “We are concerned that the unique rental arrangement, in which you only paid rent on the nights you were in town for use of one bedroom in the home, could be a potential conflict of interest”.

They continued that the rental agreement “potentially violates the Ethics Pledge you signed on becoming the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.”

Of particular concern, the letter says: “As Administrator, you have taken a number of actions to benefit industries regulated by the EPA, and this news raises the possibility that you may have personally benefitted from your relationship with industry”. The letter to Pruitt includes nine questions which he has to answer before April 16.

The growing political scandal cones as there was further news of Pruitt’s further actions to benefit polluters. Yesterday, the EPA signaled it was going to scale-back the fuel efficiency regulations for vehicles set by the Obama administration, as they “present challenges for auto manufacturers due to feasibility and practicability, raises potential concerns related to automobile safety and results in significant additional costs on consumers, especially low-income consumers”.

Automakers welcomed yesterday’s decision. Gloria Bergquist, from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said: “This was the right decision, and we support the Administration for pursuing a data-driven effort and a single national program as it works to finalize future standards.”

Massachusetts senator Edward J Markey, a member of the Environment and Public Works committee and chair of the Senate Climate Action taskforce, responded by saying “Slashing these standards would amount to turning the keys to our energy policy over to big oil and the auto industry.”

Indeed, as Markey points out, whether by accidental default or deliberate design, delaying the introduction of more fuel efficient vehicles will not only help auto manufacturers but also oil companies such as ExxonMobil, one of the client’s of J. Steven Hart, the lobbyist whose wife Scott Pruitt rented his room from.

Political commentators are smelling blood. “I don’t know how you survive this one, and if he has to go, it’s because he never should have been there in the first place,” Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey told ABC News.

Some have now gone as far as calling for Pruitt to resign. Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, said: “As he has done over and over again, he showed contempt for transparency, ethical guidelines, and the public interest. Pruitt must resign. If he refuses to do so he should be fired immediately.”

 

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