ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY Administrator Scott Pruitt’s ethics were already in question after he wasted taxpayer money on expensive plane tickets and hotels, a story he tried to rebut, misleadingly, on conservative talk radio last week. Then, last Thursday, ABC News reported that he benefited from a sweetheart deal that allowed him to live in a high-rent area of Washington while paying a relative pittance. His landlord? The wife of an energy and environmental lobbyist.
EPA officials tried to bury the story in official releases from ethics officers in the general counsel’s office, arguing that Mr. Pruitt paid rent for his single bedroom in a Capitol Hill condo. According to Bloomberg News, these officials did not review the administrator’s living arrangements in advance. Their after-the-fact defense of their boss is unpersuasive.
The administrator paid $50 a night for his room, a rate that is not outrageously low. Yet he paid only when he stayed in the condo. Though Mr. Pruitt supposedly rented only a single room, ABC News reported that his daughter stayed in a second bedroom when she interned at the White House. And, though he was apparently not supposed to use the condo’s common areas, ABC found that his daughter regularly used the kitchen. EPA ethics official Justina Fugh described this as “a routine business transaction.” Yet anyone who has suffered through finding a rental apartment in central Washington knows that reserving a bedroom for yourself at that price, paid for only sporadically and when you are in residence, without a year-long commitment, with a second bedroom available for family, is highly improbable if not impossible — without connections.
According to check records, Mr. Pruitt paid a total of $6,100 over six months for use of the Capitol Hill condo — the sort of sum that might land a young renter a basement unit in a less convenient neighborhood at best. The condo’s co-owner, to whom Mr. Pruitt paid this paltry amount, is Vicki Hart, the wife of J. Steven Hart, whose firm represents energy companies. If Mr. Pruitt had paid fair rent on realistic terms, the connection would be merely concerning. In light of the cushy deal the administrator got, the arrangement is pure swamp.
Mr. Pruitt is by now familiar with public questions about his ethical habits. The Post revealed in February that the administrator regularly charged taxpayers for expensive first-class tickets and luxury hotel stays and kept his travel schedule unusually secret, breaking with precedent. Though Mr. Pruitt cited security concerns to justify his spending, federal rules say that front-of-the-plane travel is allowed only when “use of coach class accommodations would endanger your life or government property.” The administrator announced last month that he would fly coach, a decision that suggests he could have avoided his previous profligacy, and one that he should have made from the start.
Given his ethical failings and his hostile approach to major environmental issues, Mr. Pruitt’s tenure as the nation’s top environmental enforcer, though brief, has already been far too long.