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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 WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds EPA allows use of radioactive material in some road construction MORE was questioned Wednesday on his decision to not seek reimbursement from his predecessor Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittCrystal clean water? Not if Trump can help it OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrett says climate change is a 'contentious matter of public debate' | Shuffle of EPA's science advisers elevates those with industry tries | Conservation groups to sue Trump administration, seeking giraffe protections Shuffle of EPA's science advisers elevates those with industry tries 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 QuigleyWomack to replace Graves on Financial Services subcommittee Preventing next pandemic requires new bill's global solutions Democrats introduce legislation to revise FDA requirements for LGBT blood donors 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 John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally 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 LawrenceHillicon Valley: FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden | Treasury Dept. sanctions Iranian government-backed hackers Lawmakers call for expanded AI role in education, business to remain competitive The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep 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.