Recent Controversies Weigh on EPA Administrator

A series of recent controversies have generated negative publicity for EPA’s administrator. He is now responding publicly to his critics.

A new report about controversial salary increases given to agency employees is is the latest in a series of recent events that are putting more negative publicity on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Controversial Pay Raises

According to an article published in The Atlantic, Pruitt bypassed the White House to give hefty pay raises to two of his closest aides.

As The Atlantic reports, he wanted to give raises to Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, staffers who had traveled with Pruitt from Oklahoma where he served as attorney general to Washington when he began working at the EPA.

The report states that he asked the White House for permission to raise Greenwalt’s salary to $164,200 (from $107,435, a 53% increase) and Hupp’s to $114,590 (from $86,460, a 33% increase). A source says the request was declined, so Pruitt found another way to give the raises without needing the White House’s approval.

According to The Atlantic:

A provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act allows the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 people into the agency, without White House or congressional approval. The provision, meant to help expedite the hiring of experts and allow for more flexible staffing, became law in 1996. In past administrations, it has been used to hire specialists into custom-made roles in especially stressed offices, according to Bob Perciasepe, a former acting EPA administrator.

After the White House rejected their request, Pruitt’s team studied the particulars of the Safe Drinking Water provision, according to the source with direct knowledge of these events. By reappointing Greenwalt and Hupp under this authority, they learned, Pruitt could exercise total control over their contracts and grant the raises on his own.

Other Problems

The report about the pay raises is the latest in a series of events that are creating bad publicity for the EPA Administrator.

Pruitt’s travel habits have been under scrutiny by Congress for some time now. House Committees began probing the cost of Pruitt’s first class flights when traveling. The EPA had cited the expenses as necessary for security, but some lawmakers were not convinced.

The Washington Post reported this week that the EPA had considered leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis for Pruitt’s travel, but at a cost of about $100,000 per month, the agency decided that it was too expensive. In and of itself, that perhaps would not be big news, but in light of the kerfuffle that came over the cost of his first class flights, it got the attention of some media outlets. Former HHS Secretary Tom Price resigned over his use of private jets, so lawmakers would probably take notice of other cabinet officials traveling in this manner.

Pruitt also has faced criticism for leasing a condo tied to an EPA lobbyist. The EPA said that the lease did not violate federal ethics rules, and the White House is conducting its own investigation of the situation.

Pruitt Responds to Critics

Pruitt has been on a public relations tour responding to his critics and defending his actions.

He told the Washington Examiner that critics will “resort to anything” to put a stop to the Trump administration’s agenda.

“There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” said Pruitt.

He also told the Washington Examiner that he was “dumbfounded” over the situation with the condo rental, noting that the EPA’s general counsel calling the rent on the condo “reasonable.”

“I’m dumbfounded that that’s controversial,” said Pruitt.

In an interview with Fox News today, Pruitt addressed the report about the large salary increases paid out to the two agency employees.

“My staff and I found out about it [the salary increases] yesterday and I changed it,” he told Fox News’ Ed Henry, saying that he was unaware of the situation or who authorized the pay increases.

“You don’t know? You run the agency. You don’t know who did it?” asked Henry.

“I found out this yesterday and I corrected the action and we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it,” said Pruitt.

He also did not say if anyone would be fired over the matter, but he did make it clear that the raises did not go through. “I stopped that,” said Pruitt in the interview.

Will There Be Repercussions?

It is unknown at this point if President Trump has any intentions of firing Pruitt over the controversies.

Trump called Pruitt on Monday and told him “We got your back.” An administration official told reporters that Trump said to Pruitt, “Keep your head up. Keep fighting. We got your back.”

However, the White House has reportedly considered letting him go in the past but has waited for now, in part, because of a forthcoming EPA Inspector General’s report on his travel expenses. Other White House officials have suggested that Pruitt’s future is in doubt.

“I hope he’s going to be great,” President Trump told reporters Tuesday.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.