The ethics violations of Scott Pruitt keep mounting and now he has become too toxic for even the White House, says Todd Paglia, executive director of Stand Earth
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News from Montreal, Canada. In March 2017, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, signed off on a pipeline expansion plan of a Canadian pipeline company, Enbridge. Now, troubling questions are being raised about the personal dealings at that time, between the EPA’s chief, Scott Pruitt, and the spouse of the chairman of a powerful Washington lobbying firm, Williams and Jensen. At the time the EPA signed off on the Alberta Clipper expansion, Williams and Jensen was registered as lobbying for Enbridge on “issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines.”
According to reports by The New York Times and other media organizations published earlier this month, at the time that the EPA signed off on the expansion of Alberta Clipper, Scott Pruitt was renting a condominium in Washington D.C. from Vicki Hart, the wife of J. Steven Hart. Steven Hart is the chairman of Williams and Jensen. According to The New York Times, Pruitt was paying fifty dollars per night for the condo, a rate that is considerably lower than market rates for properties of that nature. In addition, Pruitt’s lease came with an unusual provision that the renter had to pay for only the nights he stayed at the condo. The pipeline in question was the Alberta Clipper Pipeline. The expansion of Alberta Clipper will allow hundreds of thousands more barrels of oil to flow per day through this pipeline to the United States from Canada’s tar sands. The EPA’s review of the Alberta Clipper Project was one of numerous regulatory matters before the EPA related to clients who were then represented by Williams and Jensen.
Now here to discuss all of this with us is Todd Paglia. Todd is the executive director of Stand.earth, an environmental advocacy organization that focuses on protecting forests. Before joining Stand.earth, Todd was an attorney for Ralph Nader, focusing on consumer protection issues, such as environmental purchasing by governmental agencies to spur alternative markets. He joins us today from Washington. Thank you for coming back on The Real News, Todd.
TODD PAGLIA: Thanks for having me, Dimitri.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, Todd, before we get into the conflict of interest issue, I’d like to talk to you about this particular pipeline company, Enbridge. Before Scott Pruitt’s EPA approved the Alberta Clipper expansion, Enbridge experienced widely publicized problems with the EPA, under the Obama administration, in connection with a pipeline spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Could you tell us more about that, and the response of the EPA, under the Obama administration, to that spill.
TODD PAGLIA: I mean, the spill that happened in Kalamazoo is just what happens when you try to transport tar sands by pipeline. It’s incredibly corrosive, dangerous material in and of itself, let alone the climate implications. And that spill, they’re still trying to recover from it, and we’re years and years later. I understand it was close to a billion dollars spent on cleanup, and you just can’t clean this stuff up. So, under Obama they were on it, got into trying to get the cleanup going, Enbridge claimed it was going to be all-in on that cleanup, and then started waffling. I mean, it’s been a mess, and that’s what we’re asking for more of, with this now suspect decision to approve the Alberta Clipper Pipeline.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, according to the New York Times, Todd, the EPA and the lobbying firm Williams and Jensen dispute that there was any connection between the agency’s sign-off on the Alberta Clipper expansion and the condo rental. How do you as an attorney respond to this claim, and in particular, what do you think of the legality of this rental arrangement under federal conflict of interest rules and laws?
TODD PAGLIA: I mean, if you just look at- get on Expedia and look what it costs to get a room in Washington D.C. I think it’s illegal, I think Scott Pruitt is in trouble. Huge conflict of interest issues, ethics issues all over the place on this one. Fifty dollars a night, and you don’t have to pay for the month, you just pay for when you’re there, is obscene. The only place that’s even close- and you know, Scott Pruitt has a very long history of being a man for sale. He wants money, he wants to live a high lifestyle, and he’s open to the highest bidder. And what you see here is him doing that again, now for a place to live in D.C. To get a place that is fifty bucks a night, you’d have to be at the D.C. International Hostel, which is the only place I could find that actually is less than fifty bucks a night. And given his want to have luxury at all areas of his life, I don’t think he’s going to be staying in a hostel. So, he’s in trouble on this.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And so, let’s talk about his luxurious predilections, other controversies that have erupted under his tenure as chief of the EPA related to his spending habits. Can you tell us about his spending proclivities at the EPA?
TODD PAGLIA: Well and then, just a quick comment, just on the overall situation here. I mean, this is public service. These are supposed to be public service jobs. And what we have in Pruitt is what you have in Trump, which is somebody trying to make money on a federal position. And it’s, I mean, it’s just, it’s gross. And you know, forty-three thousand dollar phone booth, raises for his assistants, sidelining people who disagree with him in the agency, the list goes on, and on, and on. I mean, this gentleman feels like the public coffers are there for his disposal, and he gets to do whatever he wants to do. And let me remind you, this is a gentleman who has a special flag raised when he enters the building. I mean, this is out of a novel, to have this sort of person running the EPA.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, let’s put aside his his personal spending habits and conflicts of interest, and just let you comment on the performance of the agency under Scott Pruitt, in terms of its mandate under federal law. How do you assess the performance of the agency since Pruitt was appointed to be the chief?
TODD PAGLIA: Well listen, so there’s process, and then there’s content, right. So, on the process side, we have, with this latest scandal with the condo, clear breach of ethics. He’s getting a sweetheart deal. He doesn’t remember having the meeting with the lobbyist for the pipeline that his EPA approved. So, just on the process and the appearance of the impropriety side of things, they’re off the charts, as far as what we’re used to seeing in an administration. And then, there’s the content piece, which is interesting. He’s actually so dedicated to getting luxury, getting money, doing people favors, that he’s actually imperiling the horrible mission that they’re on, which is to open our public lands to oil and gas leasing and to the highest bidder.
And this is going to be interesting. They already have Andrew Wheeler in place, a coal lobbyist who’s the number two at the EPA. So you’re not going to necessarily get a shift in policy, but I think, as we’re seeing right now, even the Trump administration- and this tells you a lot, like this is an administration with nothing but controversy. They feel like Pruitt is too radioactive to defend, and they’re putting messages out to start walking back from Pruitt. So, I think his days are numbered, and unfortunately, I think we’re going to see Andrew Wheeler coming in here and doing the same sort of work, hopefully not spending grossly public dollars, but the same sort of mission of opening public lands to the highest bidders is going to move forward.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, we’ve been speaking to Todd Paglia, Executive Director of Stand.earth, about the latest ethics controversy surrounding EPA chief Scott Pruitt. Todd, I’m sure we’ll have you back on to discuss the appointment of Wheeler, if in fact it comes to this pass. Thank you very much for joining us on The Real News today.
TODD PAGLIA: Thanks, Dimitri.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is a Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News from Montreal, Canada.