"I question whether promoting fossil-fuel sales abroad aligns with the EPA's core mission of protecting human health and the environment," said (Rep. Betty) McCullum, who is from Minnesota. --Biesecker, AP, Dec. 13, 2017
"Pruitt signed a market based, short-term lease for a condo owned partially by my wife," Hart said, according to a statement released by his firm. "Pruitt paid all rent owed as agreed to in the lease. My wife does not, and has not ever lobbied the EPA on any matters."...Steven Hart's firm did not respond to questions about how much Pruitt paid. Market-rate rents in the area typically run more than $3,000 for two bedrooms. -- Biesecker, AP, Dec. 13, 2017
Excellent reporting by AP's Michael Biesecker.
As members of the public who have opposed a variety of special interests including residential and commercial developers and energy companies, we have frequently met a tribe of Americans whose business it is to promote, defend and profit from projects that require government approval to proceed. We have been impressed by the cynicism and contempt and hatred of government and the values behind its laws ritually expressed by members of this group of fine Americans.
This time they got elected to the highest offices of the federal government. They see no reason for government beyond what they can personally harvest from it, like any other deal or "business opportunity."
We are going to have a long, slow crawl back from this age of corruption.
EPA chief jets to Morocco to help promote fossil fuel use
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency flew to Morocco this week to help encourage the North African kingdom to import liquefied natural gas from the United States, prompting Democrats and advocacy groups to question whether the trip was in keeping with the agency's mission of ensuring clean air and water.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was accompanied by at least four staff members on the trip, which the agency said also included bilateral meetings with government officials about updating an environmental work plan included in the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement.
The trip cost nearly $40,000, an EPA employee with direct knowledge of Pruitt's travel expenses told The Associated Press. The employee spoke on condition of anonymity, citing concerns of retaliation. That does not include salary and overtime costs for the armed, around-the-clock security detail that accompanies Pruitt wherever he goes.
"We are committed to working closely with countries like Morocco to enhance environmental stewardship around the world," said Pruitt, a Republican.
Pruitt's frequent government-funded travel and other spending are already under review by EPA's inspector general. Pruitt told a congressional oversight committee earlier this month that all of his expenses are all justified, including the nearly $25,000 in public funds spent on a custom-made soundproof booth the administrator uses for making private phone calls from his office.
Rep. Betty McCollum, the ranking Democrat on the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA funding, said she is looking forward to seeing the results of the inspector general's investigation into Pruitt's spending.
"I question whether promoting fossil-fuel sales abroad aligns with the EPA's core mission of protecting human health and the environment," said McCullum, who is from Minnesota.
Pruitt's airfare, accommodations and other costs for the Morocco trip accounted for more than $17,500, nearly half of the total cost, according to AP's source. By comparison, expenses for Pruitt's chief policy adviser, Samantha Dravis, came in at a little over $4,000 for the four-day excursion.
EPA initially declined to confirm whether Pruitt was going to Morocco when AP inquired about the trip Monday, citing security concerns about discussing his upcoming travel. EPA regularly issues media advisories about Pruitt's trips only after they are completed and frequently bars reporters from attending events where he speaks to special interest groups.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to answer questions Wednesday about why Pruitt's expenses outpaced other government employees on the Morocco trip, including whether the administrator flew in first class or other premium seats.
Federal travel guidelines dictate that government employees travel in economy class unless such tickets are not "reasonably available" or if there are exceptional security circumstances. However, past federal audits have found that those rules have been routinely violated by high-ranking government officials under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Travel spending by members of President Donald Trump's Cabinet has been under scrutiny following the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in September following media reports he spent at least $400,000 in taxpayer funds on private jets for himself and his staff.
AP reported last week that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent more than $53,000 on three helicopter trips over the summer, including one that allowed him to return to Washington in time for a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence.
Records show Pruitt has taken at least four flights on non-commercial aircraft, costing more than $58,000. EPA has said all of those flights were necessary and pre-approved by ethics layers.
Pruitt's detailed travel records from his first three months in Washington, the only period released so far, show he also spent about $15,000 on 10 trips that included weekend stopovers in his home state of Oklahoma — a practice that is a focus of the inspector general's review.
Prior to his appointment to lead EPA, Pruitt was known for championing the interests of the oil and gas industry as Oklahoma's attorney general. He rejects the consensus of climate scientists that mankind's continued burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of climate change. Since coming to Washington, he has repeatedly moved to block or delay Obama-era efforts to curb carbon emissions.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune on Wednesday said the trip was another reason Pruitt should resign.
"The EPA Administrator's job is to protect the health of the public and the environment, but Scott Pruitt instead acts like he is a globe-trotting salesman for the fossil fuel industry who can make taxpayers foot the bill," Brune said,
EPA's Pruitt lived in DC condo connected to energy lobbyist
WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency lived in a Capitol Hill condominium linked to a prominent Washington lobbyist whose firm represents a roster of fossil fuel companies.
ABC News first reported Thursday that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had been living in a building on a leafy street about a block from the U.S. Capitol. Records show three units inside the building are listed as belonging to a corporation co-owned by the wife of J. Steven Hart, the chairman and CEO of the powerhouse lobbying firm Williams and Jensen PLLC. It was not immediately clear how much Pruitt was paying for the home.
The firm's clients include Exxon Mobil Corp. and the major liquefied natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy Inc.
A Republican who previously served as the state attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt has long been a champion of the oil and gas industry. In the year he has served as the Trump administration's top environmental official, Pruitt has moved to scrap, gut or replace numerous environmental regulations opposed by the industry while boosting the continued burning of fossil fuels, which is the primary cause of climate change.
In December, Pruitt and members of his staff spent about $40,000 in taxpayer funds to fly to Morocco to help encourage the North African kingdom to import liquefied natural gas from the United States. Cheniere, the lobbying client of Hart's firm, is currently the only exporter of liquefied natural gas from the continental United States.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Hart said Pruitt is a casual friend from Oklahoma who moved into the building in early 2017. Hart said he had no contact with Pruitt for many months, other than a brief exchange at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.
"Pruitt signed a market based, short-term lease for a condo owned partially by my wife," Hart said, according to a statement released by his firm. "Pruitt paid all rent owed as agreed to in the lease. My wife does not, and has not ever lobbied the EPA on any matters."
Hart's wife, Vicki Hart, is also a lobbyist, focusing on health care issues.
Steven Hart's firm did not respond to questions about how much Pruitt paid. Market-rate rents in the area typically run more than $3,000 for two bedrooms.
EPA's press office also did not respond to messages seeking comment about Pruitt's Washington living arrangements. Messages seeking comment from the White House also received no response.
Pruitt has been under increasing scrutiny for this frequent taxpayer-funded travel, which has included first-class airline tickets. Though federal regulations typically require federal officials to fly in coach, the EPA chief has said he needed to sit in premium seats due to security concerns.
Pruitt's EPA travel has also often included weekend-long layovers at his home in Tulsa. The EPA chief is widely mentioned in Oklahoma as a possible successor to Sen. James Inhofe, the state's octogenarian GOP senator who is expected to retire at the end of his current term.
Among the clients at Hart's lobbying firm is OGE Energy Corp., an electricity company serving Oklahoma and Arkansas. According to federal disclosure reports, the company paid Williams and Jensen $400,000 in 2017 to lobby on issues that included EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Copies of Pruitt's daily calendar obtained by the AP through a public records request show that Pruitt held a March 2017 meeting in his EPA office with OGE Chairman and CEO Sean Trauschke and company vice president Paul Renfrow. The meeting was arranged at the request of George Baker, a registered lobbyist from Hart's firm, who also attended.
In October, EPA announced it would rewrite the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation that sought to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants like those operated by OGE. EPA has also moved to scrap regulations cutting power plant emissions of such toxic substances as mercury, as well as tighter standards on dumps containing coal ash.
Records show Pruitt has had a long relationship with OGE. Campaign finance reports from Oklahoma show more than three dozen OGE executives donated to Pruitt's 2014 re-election campaign for state attorney general, even though he was running without a Democratic opponent. OGE chairman Peter Delaney contributed $3,500, while Trauschke kicked in $2,500 and Renfrow contributed $1,000.
Environmental groups on Thursday pointed to news of Pruitt's living arrangements as further evidence he caters to polluters, and they renewed their calls for him to resign.
"Scott Pruitt, who is supposed to protect our families from pollution, literally lived in a fossil fuel lobbyist's house," said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. "The administrator of the EPA should stand up to corporate polluters, not live in their homes while pushing their agenda at every turn."
Associated Press writer Tim Talley contributed from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Williams & Jensen
J. Steven Hart
Steven Hart became a "partner-member" of Williams & Jensen in 1984. In 1991 he became the firm's president, and in 1999 he became Chairman and CEO. Mr. Hart concentrates his practice on tax, employee benefits, energy, transportation, entertainment industry, and telecommunication issues, representing client interests in legislative and regulatory initiatives.
Mr. Hart has been named one of Washington's top lobbyists by Washingtonian magazine and The Hill newspaper. Most recently, in 2011, he was listed by Chambers USA as one of the nation's top government affairs lawyers at one of the nation's top government affairs firms, Williams & Jensen. He is also recognized as one of the top fundraisers by National Journal.
During the first administration of Ronald Reagan, Mr. Hart was the Justice Department Special Assistant in charge of processing Federal judicial nominations. He also served at the Office of Management and Budget on the President's Reorganization Task Force on ERISA, at the Labor Department in the Pension Welfare Benefits Program, and at the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation.
In addition to his legal experience, Mr. Hart is a CPA and worked on the tax staff of a major accounting firm before attending law school. He currently sits on the board of The Congressional Awards Foundation, a federally chartered youth organization. He is currently a board member and also a past president of the Lung Cancer Alliance. He is an Arthur Barto Adams Fellow at the Michael F. Price School of Business Administration (Oklahoma University).
· Oklahoma University, B.B.A., magna cum laude
· Georgetown University Law School, J.D., magna cum laude
· District of Columbia
About Williams & Jensen
Over four decades of law & lobbying experience
Williams & Jensen was co-founded in 1970 by J. D. Williams, one of the most respected tax and business lobbyists in Washington, and the late Robert Jensen, known for his antitrust, securities, and litigation experience. In many ways, the firm's success continues the dual approach set at its beginning: highly effective government relations, grounded in technically proficient law.
Williams & Jensen has since grown to become one of the few leading independent law firms in Washington with a practice focused primarily on lobbying. On a daily basis, we help companies and organizations in the U.S. and around the world influence legislation and public policy process in Washington. The firm's record of winning in Washington has attracted a clientele of leading companies, trade associations, and institutions, many relying on the firm's services for more than three decades.
Williams & Jensen is made up of people who combine impressive government experience with rare technical expertise. Many have been with the firm twenty or thirty years. Others represent new voices attracted by the firm's independence, premier practice, and reputation for results. Almost all have come from high level service with various Administrations, Congressional and Senate leaders, and critical departments and agencies. While many important political ties were forged from our professionals' earlier government experience, the firm has cultivated and continually strengthened new relationships -- across branches of government, parties, and changes in leadership. The people of Williams & Jensen know the decision-makers, understand their political histories and current positions, and are able to work shifting alliances and priorities to benefit client positions.
Equally important is Williams & Jensen's depth of expertise in a wide range of practice areas. We recognize that legislation and policy decisions on taxation, health care, intellectual property, and other issues can impact an organization's vitality as profoundly as decisions related to its core activities. Our professionals offer substantive expertise across all these areas. We understand the technical considerations behind the full breadth of laws and regulations affecting clients, and have experience in marrying government policy goals with client needs.
Because no issue exists in a vacuum, Williams & Jensen tackles problems as a multi-specialty team. We efficiently combine our diverse abilities, insights, and relationships built over 30 years to identify opportunities for clients and forestall threats. One Williams & Jensen professional may take the lead, but clients get the benefit of our pooled strengths. Ideas and results -- far more than hierarchy or headliners -- matter.
Typically, our team identifies and analyzes a client's issues and develops options for action. Among the components that may make up the plan are coalition development, comments on legislation, compliance filings, litigation and settlement negotiations, strategic interaction with decision-makers, and (through a wholly owned affiliate) grassroots campaigns. Some plan components can only be provided by a law firm such as ours; all are more effective for the unique way we combine lobbying and legal firepower. Williams & Jensen then goes beyond developing strategies to implementing them and delivering results -- that is to say, doing what our clients appreciate most: winning in Washington.