Overnight Energy: Pruitt spent at least $9,600 to decorate office | EPA backtracks and lets reporters into summit after criticism | White House to 'look into' incident

Overnight Energy: Pruitt spent at least $9,600 to decorate office | EPA backtracks and lets reporters into summit after criticism | White House to 'look into' incident
© Greg Nash

EPA SPENT AT LEAST $9,600 ON OFFICE DECOR AND DESKS: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses EPA didn't conduct required analyses of truck engine rule: internal watchdog Is Big Oil feeling the heat? MORE spent at least $9,600 to decorate his personal office with Smithsonian artwork, a refurbished desk and other framed items, according to an internal document obtained by The Hill on Tuesday.

EPA paid the Smithsonian Institution $1,950 for labor and delivery charges on three pieces of artwork loaned to Pruitt's executive office suite and spent over $2,500 to frame items that included a photo of him with President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE and an American flag. Additionally, the document confirms earlier reports that agency officials paid $2,963 for a standing "captain's" desk and another $2,075 to refurbish another office desk for the administrator.

The costs were tallied in an email sent to an EPA staffer in the general counsel's office last week that was labeled "expenses."

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The Smithsonian doesn't charge federal agencies to rent items. The costs for the three paintings -- one by William Louis Sonntag Sr., the others being portraits of founding fathers John Marshall and James Monroe -- were for labor and delivery.

 

The Smithsonian did not respond to a request for comment. The institution confirmed to The New Republic last month that Pruitt is borrowing the works and said that it does not charge rent to federal agencies, but did not mention the labor and delivery costs.

Federal agencies and presidents routinely rent works of art from the Smithsonian.

The expenses listed for Pruitt appear to surpass the $5,000 limit set by Congress for redecoration costs. When the costs exceed that amount, an agency must notify lawmakers first.

 

But EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the expenditures. He said that many of them do not count as costs to furnish Pruitt's office.

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The refurbished desk, Wilcox said, was offered to Pruitt by the Office of Administration and Resources Management, which fixed it up itself. The $1,200 painting and the $916.15 American flag were put in a "lobby," Wilcox said, but he did not specify whether the lobby was part of Pruitt's office suite. And the two framed certificates from Pruitt's confirmation are a standard expenditure for EPA heads, he said.

After taking those out, Pruitt's total office furnishing costs fall just below the $5,000 limit.

Read more here.

 

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of energy and environment news of the moment. The Hill got a firsthand view of the EPA's chemical sumitt this morning and got to witness the backlash from media outlets that were barred for attending (more below).

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com, and Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@mirandacgreen@thehill.

 

REPORTERS BLOCKED FROM EPA SUMMIT: A number of media outlets pushed back at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday for limiting the reporters allowed to cover part of its chemical summit on Tuesday -- including one reporter who says she was forcibly removed from the event.

Reporters from CNN, The Associated Press and E&E News were among a group of journalists initially barred from attending a two-day-long event kicked off at EPA headquarters Tuesday morning.

While a handful of reporters from publications including The Hill were personally invited to attend EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's opening remarks and the first section of the panel, other outlets not invited were not allowed to attend the National Leadership Summit on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), hazardous chemicals linked to cancer.

Media representatives in attendance included those from Politico, The Wall Street Journal and CBS.

AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer tweeted that the group of reporters were turned away at the door.

"The @AP, @CNN and E&E all showed up to cover this @EPA meeting on widespread, dangerous contaminants in many drinking water systems around the country. We were all turned away at the door of the EPA building."

The AP later reported that guards blocked their reporter from entrance and grabbed the reporter by her shoulders to remove her from the building after she asked to speak to an EPA public affairs spokesperson.

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Read more.

 

EPA REVERSES COURSE: EPA later reversed course amid the public outcry and let reporters cover the afternoon session of the summit.

"EPA is opening the second portion of today's PFAS Leadership Summit to press. The first portion was available via livestream," a spokesperson said in a statement. "This will start at 1 p.m and last until 5:30 p.m. and you can enter via the East Entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue NW."

Read more.

 

White House to 'look into' incident: The White House said it would "look into" the allegations that reporters were barred from the event

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"Certainly we'll look into the matter. I know EPA has put out a statement, at this point I'd refer you to them as we look into the incident," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during Tuesday's press briefing.

"I can't speak to a situation I don't have a lot of visibility into," she added.

Sanders was pressed later in the briefing on whether she felt it would ever be acceptable to physically turn away reporters.

"I'm not going to weigh into random hypotheticals that may or may not exist," she said. "I don't know any information about this specific incident. You're asking me to speak to blanket possibilities, which I'm not going to do."

Read more.

 

What Pruitt said at the summit: While details over Pruitt's remarks at the summit were overshadowed by the controversy, Pruitt shed some light on EPA's future plans to determine a unified standard for regulating PFAS. Pruitt called determining a maximum contaminant level a "national priority" and said the agency was in the process of developing groundwater determinations for the chemicals that is expected to be finished by the fall. He added that EPA was working to formally declare the class of chemicals a hazardous substance and said that the effort should be done by December.

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Pruitt said he wanted to "take action and not just raise awareness over these next couple months."

 

GOP lawmaker wants HHS to release study: Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerMeadows says Republican colleagues 'wrong' for suggesting Trump's phone call was inappropriate Republicans preview impeachment defense strategy Maloney says Hill endured 'epic mansplaining' from GOP lawmaker MORE (R-Ohio) is demanding that the Department of Health and Human Services publicly release a high-profile study looking at the harms of PFAS at low exposure levels.

Turner had previously demanded that Pruitt release it. But Pruitt told Turner and other lawmakers that since the study belongs to HHS's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, only that agency can release it.

"Administrator Pruitt's letter made it clear that the EPA is not currently blocking the release of the study on PFAS, although it did not indicate whether it had sought to block this release previously," Turner said in a statement.

"Now that Administrator Pruitt has said HHS does have the authority to release this study, I'm calling on [HHS Secretary Alex] Azar to do so as soon as possible. The release of this study is a public health and safety issue for every community with a military installation in it, including mine."

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

The EPA will hold the second and final day of its PFAS National Leadership Summit.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

China's securities regulator is pledging to boost environmental responsibility and green financing standards for regulated companies, Reuters reports.

United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says the government opposes the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline meant to link Russia and Germany, The Guardian reports.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories ...

-White House to 'look into' incident involving EPA turning away reporters

-Dems introduce bill to block Alaska refuge drilling

-EPA reverses course, lets reporters into hearing after outcry

-Gas prices reach $5 per gallon in Manhattan

-Media push back against EPA limiting reporters at chemical summit

-Former Trump adviser heads effort to crack down on climate shareholder resolutions