Pruitt tells senators: ‘I share your concerns about some of these decisions’

Pruitt tells senators: ‘I share your concerns about some of these decisions’
© Greg Nash

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA looks to other statutes to expand scope of coming 'secret science' rule EPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic MORE took an early conciliatory tone during a Wednesday Senate hearing in response to questions about his ethical and spending scandals.

Given time by Senate Appropriations Committee subpanel Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBipartisan senators ask congressional leadership to extend census deadline Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS MORE (R-Alaska) to respond to criticisms, Pruitt conceded that some of the controversial decisions were not handled properly.

“Some of the areas of criticism are frankly areas where processes at the agency were not properly instituted to prevent certain abuses from happening,” Pruitt said.

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“There have been decisions over the last 16 months or so that, as I look back on those decisions, I would not make the same decisions again,” he continued.

He referred specifically to criticisms about a $43,000 soundproof phone booth EPA built in his office, saying, “that was a process where there were not proper controls early to ensure a legal review of the obligation of the agency to inform Congress” and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO determined last month that Pruitt violated a law that required the EPA to notify Congress before spending more than $5,000 to furnish Pruitt’s office.

“As the leader of the agency, it is my responsibility” to crack down, Pruitt said.

At a pair of House hearings last month, Pruitt specifically blamed career employees at the EPA for the phone booth, saying he only wanted a secure phone line, but the project ballooned into the booth.

But some of the criticisms are not valid, he said on Wednesday.

“Some of the criticism is unfounded and exaggerated,” Pruitt told senators, saying they came about due to policy-based criticisms.

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallInterior finalizes public lands agency HQ move out West over congressional objections Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Democrats introduce bill to ban chlorpyrifos, other pesticides to protect farmworkers MORE (N.M.), the top Democrat on the panel, used his opening remarks to castigate Pruitt on policy, ethics and spending grounds.

“Every day, there seems to be a new scandal, and you at dead center,” Udall said.

“Your tenure at the EPA is a betrayal of the American people. You have used your office to enrich yourself at the expense of the American taxpayer and public health, and such abuses have led to several investigations.”

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the full Appropriations Committee, specifically questioned Pruitt’s need for a 24/7 security detail and to fly first-class on the taxpayer’s dime.

Leahy pointed out that Pruitt and the EPA said he flew first class because of people yelling at him.

“What a silly reason to fly first class,” Leahy said. “Nobody even knows who you are.”