Trump environment chief grilled by Congress amid ethics scandals

US Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt faces a grilling before members of Congress amid mounting concern over ethics scandals surrounding his tenure

Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chief on Thursday received a tongue-lashing by members of Congress alarmed by mounting ethical scandals surrounding his tenure, with Democrats demanding his resignation.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has faced several weeks of criticism over spending taxpayer dollars for first-class travel, construction of a sound-proof booth in his office, and a sweetheart rental deal at a Capitol Hill home linked to a lobbyist who had business before the agency Pruitt runs.

House Democrat Frank Pallone wasted little time in firing broadsides against the cabinet member, telling Pruitt that in any other administration, “you would be long gone by now.”

Pruitt has brought “secrecy, conflicts of interest, and scandal to the EPA,” Pallone said. 

“Every indication we have is that you really should resign, and you’re undeserving of the public trust.”

House Democrats also assailed Pruitt for dismantling protections for public health, showing disregard for scientific study, and a blindness toward climate change threats.

Pruitt, a former attorney general of Oklahoma, has been a loyal foot soldier in carrying forward Trump’s deregulation efforts, and claims EPA has saved Americans some $1 billion in regulation costs under his short tenure.

Earlier this month, Trump doubled down on his confidence in Pruitt, saying he is doing a “great job” despite being “under siege” by US media. 

Pruitt, in the hearing before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, shot back against accusations of wrongdoing. 

“Let me be very clear: I have nothing to hide as it relates to how I’ve run the agency for the past 16 months,” he said, adding that he acknowledges there is a “learning process” for the job and that he strives to do better. 

“Let’s have no illusions about what is really going on here,” he went on. “Those who attack the EPA and attack me are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president’s agenda and undermine this administration’s priorities. I’m simply not going to let that happen.”

More than 170 congressional Democrats have signed a letter demanding Pruitt resign. At least three House Republicans have also called on him to quit or be fired.

In heated hearing exchanges, Pruitt insisted his actions have been acceptable, but became “twisted” in biased news reports.

Asked specifically by House Republican Joe Barton whether his first class travel for work was illegal, Pruitt said it was not. 

“It may look bad, but it’s not illegal,” Barton said.