Senators just sent a veiled message to EPA chief Scott Pruitt: Follow ethics rules

  • A Senate subcommittee voiced unanimous support for a measure that called attention to the scandals that have engulfed the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Scott Pruitt.
  • The move came as two prominent Republican senators said they intend to summon Pruitt to the Hill to testify about allegations of self-dealing and wasteful spending.
  • Pruitt and EPA face about a dozen outstanding investigations into spending, policy and management issues.
Scott Pruitt testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill, January 18, 2017 in Washington.
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Scott Pruitt testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill, January 18, 2017 in Washington.

A Senate subcommittee on Thursday voiced unanimous support for a measure that called attention to the scandals that have engulfed the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Scott Pruitt.

The lawmakers sent a thinly veiled message to the agency and its embattled chief by including an amendment to a report that boiled down to a simple directive: Follow ethics rules.

The move by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies came after two prominent Republicans said they intend to summon Pruitt to the Hill to testify about allegations of self-dealing and wasteful spending.

Most recently, Pruitt has come under fire for tasking his staff and security detail with running his errands and searching for employment opportunities for his wife. That has led to allegations that Pruitt violated federal rules that prohibit officials from compelling subordinates to do personal favors for them or using their office to enrich themselves.

In a report linked to the Fiscal Year 2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, the senators tacked on the following amendment:

The Committee feels strongly that it is essential that agencies provided funding in this Act comply with all applicable ethics regulations. To that end, the Committee directs that none of the funds made available in this Act may be used in contravention of 5 CFR § 2635, the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.

The language may seem vague, but Sen. Tom Udall, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, did not mince words in explaining the subcommittee's intent. He said the amendment "addresses the ethics scandals plaguing this administration."

"I am appalled at the number of scandals piling up — especially at the EPA," he said. "Frankly, it's hard to even keep track."

Pruitt and EPA face about a dozen outstanding investigations into spending, policy and management issues. Several investigators are probing the incident that unleashed a torrent of subsequent media reports: Pruitt's arrangement to lease a Capitol Hill condo linked to an energy lobbyist for just $50 a night, and only on nights he stayed there.

Republicans turn the corner on Pruitt

Until now, Republicans have rarely sought to draw attention to Pruitt's scandals, including during his appearances on the Hill. But following a report that Pruitt had an EPA aide tap Republican donors to find a job for his wife, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told Reuters that he wants Pruitt to address the steady flow of news reports in a hearing.

Sen. Joni Ernst tweeted that she supports Inhofe's call for a hearing. Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, has sparred with Pruitt for months over his efforts to change a federal program that could negatively impact the farmers in her state who supply corn for biofuels.

A spokesman for Sen. John Barrasso, chair of the Senate environment committee, also told Reuters the Wyoming Republican plans to ask Pruitt to testify before year's end.

Pruitt is also losing support among conservative media. On Wednesday, Fox News host Laura Ingraham and the National Review called for Pruitt to step down.

President Donald Trump has so far refused to fire Pruitt, who is spearheading his administration's efforts to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations.