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EPA’s Pruitt and staff to attend chemical industry meeting at luxury resort next week

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will travel next week to address the American Chemistry Council’s board meeting at a high-end resort on South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, his spokesman confirmed Thursday.

Pruitt, who has traveled across the country to meet with industry groups regulated by the EPA, is scheduled to address the board during a session on Nov. 9, according to the event’s official schedule. The administrator plans to bring eight EPA staffers to the event. The contingent includes his chief of staff, a senior adviser on state and regional affairs, a press aide, a public engagement official, a security detail of three and an advance person.

The EPA on Thursday said the government is paying for the group’s expenses.

“This is part of Administrator Pruitt’s ‘back-to-basics’ tour as he continues to meet with as many stakeholders as possible,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement. “Administering the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), amended by the 2016 Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, is one of EPA’s core functions.”

Traveling to the session, held at the Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, is the latest example of Pruitt going outside the Beltway to meet with top corporate officials. In recent months he has gone to a Ritz-Carlton resort for a National Mining Association meeting in Naples, Fla., and to another golf resort in Arizona to speak at a board meeting for the National Association of Manufacturers.

According to an online itinerary, rooms for the event are $389 per night, though Wilcox said EPA officials would be paying a government rate of $135 for lodging. Registration for the meeting begins at $649, and includes access to a “chairman’s reception and board dinner” on Wednesday evening, before Pruitt’s speech.

The American Chemistry Council declined to comment on the event.

The chemical industry group, which frequently criticized the EPA’s approach to regulation under President Barack Obama, has emerged as an influential player in the Trump administration. Along with other trade groups, the organization successfully petitioned the agency to institute a two-year delay for the effective date of a chemical risk safety rule adopted in January. That rule would require operators storing chemicals to provide more detailed information to first responders.

Pruitt moved in June to delay the rule, which is aimed at averting the kind of explosions that occurred in 2013 at a fertilizer plant in West, Tex., killing 15 people. It now would not take effect until Feb. 19, 2019.

EPA has changed course on a number of other policies involving chemicals since Pruitt came into office. It is currently in the process of implementing updates to the Toxic Substances Control Act, which made significant changes to how the agency evaluates and regulates both chemicals that are already on the market or about to be introduced.

Environmentalists have charged that EPA is no longer testing new chemicals as it did after the law was passed, when Obama was still in office, and that Pruitt’s appointees are rewriting the rules for how the law will be implemented going forward.

In March, Pruitt withdrew a petition to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is used on a range of crops and was determined by EPA to pose potential health risks to fetal neurological development. He has instructed agency officials to reevaluate scientific determinations on that pesticide as well as other chemical compounds.

The ACC has praised Pruitt for moving to change the makeup of scientific advisory boards that provide recommendations to the agency on a range of matters, including pesticides, toxic chemicals and air pollutants. Earlier this year, an ACC spokesman said of the changes, “We are hopeful Administrator Pruitt’s actions will help to ensure regulatory decisions are based on the highest quality science, enhance accountability, create greater balance, more transparency and fewer conflicts of interest on EPA advisory boards.”

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Several people linked to the ACC serve in the EPA or are expected to be named to positions in the agency. Pruitt is set to announce new appointments to the Scientific Advisory Board and two other panels as early as next week, and according to individuals briefed on the matter, ACC’s senior director for its chemical products and technology division, Kimberly White, will be named to the board. Nancy Beck, a former ACC executive, now serves as deputy assistant administrator at EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Michael Dourson, an industry consultant who co-authored a 2016 paper with Beck underwritten by ACC, serves as one of Pruitt’s senior advisers and is nominated to lead the chemical safety office. An agency spokeswoman, Liz Bowman, also previously worked at the industry group.

In the paper Beck and Dourson authored last year in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, they argued that EPA had set acceptable risk levels for 19 chemicals that were too stringent.

“Pruitt’s going to meet with ACC’s Board in South Carolina, but the real problem is that he could just as well just call Nancy Beck or Michael Dourson into his office for a staff meeting,” said Richard Denison, lead senior scientist for the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund. “The chemical industry has unprecedented access to the inner workings of EPA’s toxics office, and it’s showing up in myriad ways.”

Pruitt met with ACC’s chief executive Cal Dooley and several other officials from the group once at EPA headquarters, according to his publicly released schedule, on May 10. The topic listed on the calendar for the meeting was, “Importance of EPA to the antimicrobial and chemical industry and the need for greater transparency and opportunities for stakeholder engagement.”

But it is not Pruitt’s only interaction with the chemical industry. The following week, on May 15, he met with Chemours chief executive Mark Vergnano and other company officials. Later that day, he met with the National Association of Chemical Distributors to discuss TSCA and other related issues. A few days later, on May 20, he toured Brainerd Chemical in Tulsa, which describes itself as “a major regional provider and distributor of chemicals for research facilities, industrial plants and agricultural operations.”

In the past, Pruitt has shown a tendency to take numerous staff members with him on his out-of town trips, according to the few details available about his travel schedule.

For instance, he took at least five political staffers, in addition to his security detail, on a July 27 noncommercial flight to rural Oklahoma for a meeting about water issues. On Aug. 4, he took several other staff members on a charter flight to visit Gold King Mine in Colorado. The state’s governor, John Hickenlooper (D), had offered Pruitt a seat on his plane that day, but the EPA decided to charter its own flight so that Pruitt’s staff members could come along.

On June 7, Pruitt and several EPA staffers took a military flight from Cincinnati, where he had attended an event with President Trump, to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to catch an evening flight to Italy for a meeting of environmental ministers. That flight cost in excess of $36,000. In Italy, Pruitt met with a number of other staffers who had traveled ahead of him.

Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, made fewer appearances at industry board meetings, though she held more frequent meetings than Pruitt with environmental advocates, often at EPA headquarters.

In the past, when Pruitt has traveled to other industry events to speak, he has received approval from government ethics officials. Each time government attorneys have greenlighted the trips, but warned that “the persons extending the invitation are registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations, therefore if the official speaks, he must be careful about the organization offering him a tangible gift to take home with him.”

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