Overnight Energy: Pruitt sought 24/7 security detail from day one | White House infighting spreads to EPA | Officials feared PR 'nightmare' over change to water standards

Overnight Energy: Pruitt sought 24/7 security detail from day one | White House infighting spreads to EPA | Officials feared PR 'nightmare' over change to water standards
© Greg Nash

PRUITT'S SECURITY DETAIL BACK UNDER SCRUTINY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA official steps down after indictment on ethics charges | Sanders to hold town hall on climate | Zinke slams 'environmental radicals' for fires Trump EPA official resigns after indictment on ethics charges Overnight Energy: Trump to nominate Wheeler as EPA chief | House votes to remove protections for gray wolves | Lawmakers aim to pass disaster funds for California fires MORE can't seem to stem the flow of news reports related to his use of a round-the-clock security detail.

Less than three weeks after Pruitt gave testimony to members of the House that his need for a security detail and first class travel emanated from threats made to him as administrator, the EPA's inspector general told senators Monday that Pruitt had in fact requested the detail before he even started his job, and he got it on his first day.

The detail has cost taxpayers around $3 million to date.

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"EPA's Protective Service Detail began providing 24/7 coverage of the Administrator the first day he arrived," Inspector General Arthur Elkins wrote in a letter to a pair of Democratic senators who had asked numerous questions about Pruitt's security.

"The decision was made by the Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training after being informed that Mr. Pruitt requested 24/7 protection once he was confirmed as Administrator."

Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Health Care: Top Trump refugee official taking new HHS job | Tom Price joins new Georgia governor's transition | FDA tobacco crackdown draws ire from the right Company hiked price for opioid overdose treatment 600 percent: Senate report Overnight Energy: Trump to nominate Wheeler as EPA chief | House votes to remove protections for gray wolves | Lawmakers aim to pass disaster funds for California fires MORE (D-Del.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseTrump handpicked new AG ‘to do his bidding’ in Russia probe, says Dem strategist Blumenthal: Whitaker appointment raises 'danger of a slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre' The Hill's Morning Report — Are Pelosi’s Democratic detractors going too far? MORE (D-R.I.), who asked Elkins for the information, said in a statement that the letter calls Pruitt's statements about his security into question.

"A threat to a federal employee's personal security is extremely serious, but so is using security as pretext for special treatment on the public dime," they said in a statement.

EPA defends Pruitt: In response to the letter, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox pointed out that Elkins' office isn't involved in the security decisions.

"As the report says, EPA's Office of Inspector General does not determine security assessments. EPA's Protective Service Detail handles security decisions and this particular decision was made before Administrator Pruitt arrived at EPA," Wilcox said.

Why it matters: Pruitt and his staff have long said that he has faced "unprecedented" security threats since becoming EPA head, and that's why he needs the constant security.

At a pair of House hearings last month, Pruitt read descriptions of some of the alleged threats. And Elkins' office, which is responsible for investigating threats against EPA personnel and property, has confirmed that the volume of threats has increased under Pruitt.

But Elkins' letter shows that whatever spurred the EPA to provide Pruitt with a constant detail started before he was even the EPA head.

Democrats are certain to use the letter to push back against the EPA's justifications for the security.

What's next: Pruitt is due Wednesday to testify in front of a Senate Appropriations Committee panel about his budget request for fiscal 2019, the first time before the Senate in months.

While neither Carper nor Whitehouse is on that panel, the topic of Pruitt's security spending and his justifications for it is certain to come up.

Read more here.

 

CONSERVATIVE MAGAZINE TELLS PRUITT TO STEP DOWN: The Weekly Standard is joining left-wing voices in calling on Pruitt to resign from his post.

In an editorial published Monday, the stalwart conservative publication said Pruitt has done good work at the agency and accomplished major conservative goals, which the publication strongly supports.

But, while they blamed the mainstream media for at least some of the controversies, the editors said Pruitt has gone way too far.

"The media, and especially the New York Times and Washington Post from which other media take their cue, shared the view of rank and file EPA bureaucrats that Pruitt was 'anti-science' and therefore illegitimate. His deregulatory efforts, in their view, would result in environmental catastrophe," the editors wrote.

But they argued that Pruitt also "invites" the controversy, calling out lavish dinners, a new SUV, first-class flights, an expensive security detail, a condo rental from a lobbyist couple and more, leading to nearly a dozen federal investigations into him.

"As those who view the environmentalist movement with skepticism, we find the whole thing deeply regrettable. But we reject the common assumption that public officials should get a pass so long as they hold the right policy opinions, whatever those opinions are," they said.

"We share Pruitt's views on environmental deregulation and value his accomplishments in office. But the time has come for him to go."

Read more.

 

OFFICIALS FEARED PR 'NIGHTMARE' OVER WATER STANDARDS: Officials at the White House and Environment Protection Agency worried about a public relations "nightmare" from an agency's expected move to change suggested standards for fluorinated chemicals in drinking water, according to internal emails.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control, is currently readjusting its standards for acceptable levels of the chemical in drinking water. It is expected to propose that safe levels be almost six times stronger than EPA's current recommendation.

Internal Trump administration emails that the Union of Concerned Scientists obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit paint a picture of an administration bracing for the heightened standards, and fearing the conflicting guidance's impact on other parts of the federal government.

In one of the emails obtained and first reported on Monday by Politico, an unnamed White House intergovernmental affairs official called the expected fallout from the stronger recommendations "extremely painful."

"The public, media and Congressional reaction to these new numbers is going to be huge," the official wrote in a letter forwarded to EPA. "The impact to EPA and DoD is going to be extremely painful. We [Department of Defense and EPA] cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be."

Fluorinated chemicals are used by a number of industries, including in products such as hoses to reduce emissions for cars and planes, sterile equipment used in pharmaceuticals and stain resistance in clothing and non-stick cookware. But the chemicals are also associated with serious health risks, including kidney and testicular cancer.

Another series of emails between agency officials show that the EPA and the Pentagon sought to get interagency review of the rule before publishing, but as one EPA staffer wrote, "It seems like [the ATSDR] want to roll out [the report] and do they [sic] own thing."

Read more here.

 

TRUMP-ERA INFIGHTING HITS EPA: Political infighting that has been a hallmark of the Trump White House is spreading to the rest of the administration -- and to K Street as well.
Bitter battles between people who are supposed to be on the same side have become a feature of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: WHCA picking non-comedian for headliner a 'good first step' Five takeaways from Mississippi's Senate debate Watergate’s John Dean: Nixon would tell Trump 'he's going too far' MORE's Washington.

Now the internecine warfare is tearing at the fabric of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where Administrator Scott Pruitt has faced months of scrutiny over a string of staff and spending controversies that has lowered morale at the agency and angered Pruitt's political allies.

The latest incident involved reports that an EPA press aide had shopped a negative story to reporters about an Interior Department political staffer, claiming the person was working with an EPA whistleblower to leak negative stories that could bring down Pruitt.

Much of the EPA story centers on Kevin Chmielewski, the former Trump body man hailed as a "gem" by the president from a 2016 campaign rally stage in Maryland.

Screenshots of a three-way text conversation obtained by The Hill between Chmielewski, Hinson and Baumgardner show Chmielewski telling the other two that he had been asked to resign from the EPA on Feb. 12.

Hinson responded, "F---. That." and told Chmielewski to reach out to a White House Office of Presidential Personnel staffer "and then blow the roof off this."

Baumgardner responds to the group: "Don't do anything drastic."

On Monday, a photo of a shortened version of that text conversation was published by the same website that posted the earlier story on leaks. In that screenshot, Baumgardner's name is not shown.

Chmielewski in an interview with The Hill accused Baumgardner of sharing the group text with the site.

"It's 100 percent Healy. She's an energy lobbyist -- so that's what's happening. Obviously that industry is furious with me right now because I'm taking down their best friend," Chmielewski said, referring to Pruitt.

Read more here.

 

EPA LAUNCHES 'LEAN' MANAGEMENT PROGRAM: Pruitt gathered with EPA officials and outside guests Monday to formally launch a new office focus on implementing 'lean' management principles across the agency.

The effort is being spearheaded by Chief of Operations Henry Darwin. Under him is the new Office of Continuous Improvement, an office of about five employees responsible for deploying the strategy.

The main focus of the effort is to track hundreds of measurements across the EPA -- like time to obtain a permit or the number of drinking water systems in compliance with rules -- and set goals to improve the measures.

"We didn't track the amount of time it took to issue permits," Pruitt said in his chief example of the need for the effort.

"One of the first questions that I asked of Henry, 'tell me how long it takes us to get through the permitting process?' And we didn't even know. Not only here but across the country. There was great inconsistency from region to region."

Sierra Club Federal Policy Director Melinda Pierce criticized the push, saying it's part of an effort to kowtow to regulated companies.

"It's clear that the only 'customers' Scott Pruitt intends to help are the corporate polluters directing his every move," she said in a statement.

But Darwin said regulated companies aren't the only parties EPA serves, and the lean management effort also tracks outcomes like clean air, water and soil and safe chemicals.

"In order for us to create a return on the investment that taxpayers make in EPA, we have to show that those are improving," he told reporters at the event.

Spotted: In the room where the EPA made its "lean" announcement, staffers had hung multiple posters touting Pruitt's "Back to Basics" agenda and deregulatory efforts.

But the agency has had a pair of posters on "True Environmentalism." Check them out here.

Recall that Pruitt used to frequently speak in public and in interviews about his belief that left-wing environmentalism has it all wrong, and that "true" environmentalism means making good use of natural resources like fossil fuels.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

ConocoPhillips is preparing to sell off its offshore drilling operations in the North Sea, between Great Britain and northern Europe, Reuters reports.

New Hampshire's highest court ruled Monday in favor of a highly controversial proposed wind project in Antrim, New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

Nestle is committing to donating water to Flint, Mich., for several months, Michigan Public Radio reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out stories from Monday and over the weekend...

-Pruitt asked for 24/7 security before starting at EPA, watchdog says

-Weekly Standard calls on Pruitt to resign

-Trump officials feared PR 'nightmare' from drinking water standards

-EPA strife spotlights Trump-era infighting

-Trump tasks Pruitt, Chao to negotiate emissions standard with California: report

-Trump issues disaster declaration for Hawaii volcano damage