Senators will have their first chance to question EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt since he has been beset by allegations of excessive spending and misuse of his Cabinet-level office.
On Wednesday, he will appear before the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. The hearing is meant to focus on President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget plan for the agency but could be consumed by queries related to Pruitt’s pricey travel and expansive security.
Six out of the seven Democrats who sit on the subcommittee have already signed onto a resolution calling on Pruitt to resign from EPA. Ranking member Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is the measure’s lead sponsor.
Udall also signed onto a letter last week with other Democratic lawmakers questioning EPA’s expenses in refurbishing Pruitt’s office, including its installation of a secure phone booth. They asked for information on any agency spending on Pruitt’s office going forward.
Pruitt could be in for a tough time. Late last month, he appeared at two House hearings on the same day, giving close to six hours of testimony where he faced questioning on several ethics mishaps, including substantial pay raises for close aides and alleged retaliation against those who raised concerns.
The EPA inspector general has already begun several reviews of EPA spending by Pruitt and his aides, which has also attracted congressional scrutiny.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is also investigating the agency, requesting several different batches of documents as well as transcribed interviews with top officials. Staff has already interviewed Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta, the former head of Pruitt’s personal security detail.
A Democratic committee aide told E&E News that EPA’s production of documents related to the panel’s requests has been rolling. Further, minority staff members have been participating in interviews and seeing EPA records alongside their Republican counterparts.
White House officials last week gave public support to Pruitt despite pressure on him to leave EPA. President Trump himself gave backing to the administrator on Friday.
"Yes, I do," Trump said when asked by a reporter whether he had confidence in Pruitt (Greenwire, May 11).
Pruitt and senators will have plenty to discuss on policy, as well. Appropriators tend to focus on their own parochial interests affecting their constituents.
Just in recent days, EPA said it would finalize a rule to restrict the sale of the paint-stripping chemical methylene chloride, responsible for several deaths, after it had delayed moving forward on a ban.
In addition, Pruitt moved last week to rework the agency’s air quality standards in several ways, including having them take account of adverse effects on the economy and energy.
Trump’s budget proposal could also draw attention, given its deep cuts proposed for EPA. Under the White House plan, the agency would receive $6.15 billion, a nearly $2 billion cut from current funds, and reduce EPA’s workforce by hundreds of employees.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the subcommittee’s chairwoman, huddled Thursday with her appropriations staff to prepare for the hearing. She signaled she’ll have questions for Pruitt on both policy and ethics.
"This is my opportunity to ask him about what he’s laying down for the budget, as well as other questions that relate to operations and accountability within the agency," she told E&E News.
Given the scrutiny of Pruitt in recent weeks, she also predicted that "we’ll probably have pretty good attendance."
Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, May 16, at 9:30 a.m. in 124 Dirksen.
Witness: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Reporter Geof Koss contributed.