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: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards 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: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Congress can stop the war on science Black Caucus sees power grow with new Democratic majority 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 InhofeOn The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency Foreign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' 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: Joshua Tree National Park lost M in fees due to shutdown | Dem senator, AGs back case against oil giants | Trump officials secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada Overnight Energy: Ethics panel clears Grijalva over settlement with staffer | DC aims to run on 100 percent clean energy by 2032 | Judges skeptical of challenge to Obama smog rule Judges skeptical of case against Obama smog rule 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.