EPA says it abandoned plan for office in Pruitt’s hometown

EPA says it abandoned plan for office in Pruitt’s hometown
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told lawmakers this week that it abandoned plans to establish an office for Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report EPA asked to justify proposal to limit power of its science advisers MORE in his home town of Tulsa, Okla.

“Although the EPA staff did explore whether office space was available in Tulsa, this possibility was ultimately abandoned,” Troy Lyons, the EPA's associate administrator for congressional affairs, wrote in a Tuesday letter to Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonOvernight Energy: Experts criticize changes to EPA lead, copper rule | House panel looks into plan to limit powers of EPA science advisers | Senate bill aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 EPA asked to justify proposal to limit power of its science advisers Five environmental fights to watch in 2020 MORE (D-Texas), the top Democrat on the House Science Committee.

Early on in Pruitt's tenure at the agency, and even before he was confirmed, the agency wanted to rent office space for him in Tulsa, according to Lyons' letter.

Johnson and two other high-ranking Democrats on the panel previously obtained documents showing EPA staff trying to establish the office. Johnson asked about the office in May, saying it would be an unnecessary and ethically questionable expense.

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“Establishing a new EPA office in Tulsa may be personally convenient for you, but it seems ethically questionable, professionally unnecessary, and financially unjustified,” Johnson and her colleagues wrote in a letter to Pruitt dated May 1.

Pruitt has been under fire in recent months for various ethics and spending scandals, centered in part around allegations that he has sought to use taxpayer resources for personal gain.

In his first few months on the job, he frequently traveled to Tulsa for business and then stayed at home for the weekend. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating whether the trips were a proper use of agency funds.

Lyons also sent the Democrats a series of emails, some of which the lawmakers appeared to already have.

They show that shortly after Trump's inauguration, Ryan Jackson, who at the time was chief of staff for Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report MORE (R-Okla.), reached out to EPA staff asking them to research office space in Tulsa that Pruitt could use when he was home. After Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate, Jackson became his chief of staff at EPA.

“Pruitt wants to know when he goes home to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he can work,” Jackson wrote to James Blizzard, in EPA’s congressional affairs office, on Jan. 30, 2017, when he was still on Inhofe's staff.

Jackson later got more specific about what Pruitt would need.

“Office for him, meeting room, lobby space but that’s largely it I think,” he wrote on Jan. 31, adding that he'll also need a secure compartmented information facility "in the event he is working on spill info or otherwise protected information.

"Of course when the President communicates with the Cabinet those communications are protected so we will need to be able to accommodate that,” he added.

Jackson said Pruitt also would need a secure computer and phone, 24-hour access and a parking garage. He added that he wanted the space to be “consistent with previous Administrators,” saying former EPA head Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Trump budget slashes EPA funding | International hunting council disbands amid lawsuit | Bill targets single-use plastics Trump budget slashes EPA funding, environmental programs Overnight Energy: Trump credits economic progress to environmental rollbacks | Vote to subpoena Interior delayed by prayer breakfast | Dems hit agency for delaying energy efficiency funds MORE had a similar setup in her hometown of Boston when she served during the Obama administration.

Jackson said he didn’t think it was necessary to ask for a provision in EPA’s annual appropriations legislation to fund the office space.