Two Pruitt Aides Who Got Big Raises Said to Resign From EPA

(Bloomberg) -- Two top allies of Scott Pruitt who won controversial raises worth tens of thousands of dollars are resigning from the agency, amid mounting scrutiny of the extent to which the EPA administrator enlisted subordinates to conduct personal errands.

Director of Scheduling and Advance Millan Hupp and Senior Counsel Sarah Greenwalt are leaving the Environmental Protection Agency, said two people familiar with the moves who asked not to be named discussing personnel matters. Both Hupp and Greenwalt previously worked with Pruitt during his time as Oklahoma attorney general and followed him to Washington after his confirmation to lead the agency last year.

Their departures come after an exodus last month of other top EPA political appointees and come as lawmakers criticize Pruitt for relying on agency employees to help him find housing in Washington, book personal travel, try to buy a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel and seek employment opportunities for his wife. At least some of that work was conducted with EPA email and during working hours, potentially violating federal ethics rules that bar federal employees from using their public office for private gain and soliciting gifts from employees.

Pruitt has won praise for working to roll back environmental regulations and limit the EPA’s reach, but his tenure has been marred by allegations of ethical misconduct and calls for his resignation. He is the subject of at least 10 federal investigations, including a probe of his $50-per-night rental of a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium from a lobbyist, frequent taxpayer-funded travel and high-priced security.

Trump has stood by Pruitt. "EPA is doing really, really well,” Trump said Wednesday during a meeting with members of his Cabinet. “And you know, somebody has to say that about you a little bit. You know that, Scott.”

Greenwalt and Hupp both received substantial pay raises using an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act, over the objections of the White House. EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson said he was responsible for the salary adjustments, which subsequently were reversed.

Pruitt praised Hupp, saying in an emailed statement that she had “done outstanding work in all of her endeavors” at the agency and calling her a “valued member of the EPA team from day one, serving an integral role in our efforts to take the president’s message of environmental stewardship across the country.”

Greenwalt is set to return to her home state and serve as general counsel of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission. In an emailed statement, Pruitt praised Greenwalt as “a tremendous leader within the agency,” noting she oversaw a rewrite of a water pollution rule and played “a vital role in our international relations.”

Pruitt has blamed subordinates for a series of questionable EPA moves under his watch and told lawmakers in April and May that he was unaware of some controversial spending decisions, including the installation of a secure phone booth in his office at a cost of $43,000.

“Scott Pruitt cannot shift the blame for his scandals to his aides or career EPA employees,” Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, said by email Wednesday. “The corruption begins with Scott Pruitt, and it must end with his resignation or firing.”

The latest revelations concern Pruitt’s efforts to arrange paying work for his wife. In one case last year, a Pruitt aide emailed the chief executive of Chick-fil-A Inc., seeking to arrange a meeting with Pruitt to discuss “a potential business opportunity,” according to emails obtained by the Sierra Club through a Freedom of Information Act request, first reported by the Washington Post. The opportunity was opening a franchise, the Post reported.

Pruitt struggled to explain the move to a reporter for Nexstar Media Group Inc. on Wednesday. Instead of denying the report or expressing remorse, the EPA chief praised the fast-food chain.

“I think with great change comes, you know, I think, opposition. I mean there’s significant change that’s happening for us, not only at the EPA but across this administration,” he said. “My wife is an entrepreneur herself; I love, she loves, we love Chick-Fil-A as a franchise of faith, and it’s one of the best in the country, and so, that’s something we were very excited about.”

“We need more of them in Tulsa and we need more of them across the country,” Pruitt added.

Some of the EPA’s recent spending has drawn bipartisan pushback. On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment capping EPA spending on fountain pens to $50 apiece -- a response to newly released email correspondence showing the agency spent $1,560 on a dozen of them. EPA representatives defended the purchase, saying they were gifts for Pruitt’s foreign counterparts and the pens were bought using funds budgeted for that purpose.

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