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Wheeler faces questions over Pruitt spending

Wheeler faces questions over Pruitt spending
© Aaron Schwartz

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes Overnight Energy: EPA pledges new focus on environmental justice | Republicans probe EPA firing of Trump-appointed science advisers | Biden administration asks court to toss kids' climate lawsuit Republicans probe EPA firing of Trump-appointed science advisers MORE was questioned Wednesday on his decision to not seek reimbursement from his predecessor Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittScientific integrity, or more hot air? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden proposes billions for electric vehicles, building retrofitting| EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels | Kerry to travel to UAE, India to discuss climate change EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels MORE for nearly $124,000 in expenses an internal watchdog deemed “excessive.” 

Wheeler said he did not know whether the EPA had the authority to recover the money from Pruitt during a House Appropriations Committee hearing in response to questions from Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyLobbying world Business groups issue both praise and criticism on COVID relief bill's passage On The Money: Biden signals he'll move forward on COVID-19 relief without GOP | Economy adds 49K jobs in January | Minimum wage push sparks Democratic divisions MORE (D-Ill.). 

“They didn’t specify what authority we would have to recoup that money,” Wheeler said of the watchdog report. 

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A 2018 inspector general report found that Pruitt and his staff spent $123,942 on "excessive” first class travel in 2017 and recommended that the EPA demand reimbursement from Pruitt for his share of the expenses. 

Wheeler also claimed on Wednesday that the report had a “number of errors” and argued that the expense figure should be halved because Pruitt’s security detail was required to travel with him. 

He also testified on a number of other issues before the House panel. 

Regarding rulemaking for corporate average fuel economy standards, he said that career officials were weighing in, but that it would be “inappropriate” to send every comment to the White House since “sometimes comments from different staff contradict each other.”

Wheeler also defended President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump mocks Murkowski, Cheney election chances Race debate grips Congress US reentry to Paris agreement adds momentum to cities' sustainability efforts MORE's proposed cut of more than a quarter of the agency's funding in his fiscal 2021 budget request. 

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"How do you justify the president's cuts to programs to ensure that we have clean and safe drinking water?" asked Rep. Brenda LawrenceBrenda Lulenar LawrenceLobbying world Congressional Black Caucus members post selfie celebrating first WH visit in four years Troops defending Capitol sickened by undercooked meat: report MORE (D-Mich.). 

"I don't think it will affect us," Wheeler told her of the proposed decrease, citing a $2 billion request for certain funds that help communities with water infrastructure as well as the agency's update to the Lead and Copper rule. 

The proposed changes to the Lead and Copper rule would establish a 10 parts per billion “trigger” level at which cities would be required to reevaluate their water treatment processes and possibly add corrosion-control chemicals to city water.