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Andy Spears: Pruitt not fit to lead EPA

Andy Spears • Updated May 15, 2018 at 3:00 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency has stood as a source of protection for our lands, water and air for nearly 50 years. Since the inception of the EPA in 1970, there were 15 EPA administrators who have pledged to protect human health and the environment. 

However, this trend came to an end with current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. In his short tenure, he has shown a lack of ethics and an abuse of power. For these reasons, leaders in Congress should call his future as EPA administrator into question.

Before becoming EPA administrator, Pruitt spent nearly a decade as an Oklahoma senator and five years as attorney general in Oklahoma. In these roles, Pruitt was a self-described “advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” He accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry, refused to believe in climate change and tried to block clean water regulations. 

Scott Pruitt was a danger to Americans and our great United States long before he stepped foot in EPA’s offices. And it should be no surprise that he brings unethical practices to his current role. 

For more than 20 years, Tennessee Citizen Action has worked to hold government officials accountable for transparency and maintaining high ethical standards. Now, our own U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is in a strong position to serve as a watchdog over the abuses and ethical lapses of Scott Pruitt. 

This week, the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing about EPA appropriations. During this hearing, senators will have an opportunity to question Pruitt about his 11 federal investigations. We’re asking Tennesseans to join us in calling on Alexander to ask the tough questions of the administrator and to hold him accountable for his actions.

A majority of the investigations focus on accusations that Pruitt misused EPA funds and taxpayer dollars. One of these cases involves allegations that Pruitt spent more than $100,000 on first-class flights in just one year. His most expensive flight was to Morocco to meet with oil barons on the possibility of exporting American natural gas to the country. Yet, he submitted information claiming he was traveling to Australia to discuss sustainable environmental options. 

Another ongoing investigation involves Pruitt’s too-cheap-to-be-true condo in Washington. Early in his term as administrator, Pruitt paid only $1,500 a month in rent, however, this upscale D.C. neighborhood boasts an average monthly rent of $3,536. The wife of a high-profile natural gas lobbyist and exporter, who owns the property, provided this special discount. The White House is conducting its own investigation into possible misuse of funds. 

The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should not accept donations from big oil and natural gas companies; it is a direct violation of ethics.

Scott Pruitt is incapable of upholding the responsibilities of the office. His actions prove that he is not fit for protecting the interests of our lands, water, or air.

It is up to our Tennessee leaders to right this wrong. Alexander is a proven leader who is suited to ask the important questions. He has led on issues of the environment, education and health care. From spearheading changes in No Child Left Behind to sponsoring bills that help our national parks, Alexander knows what it takes to be an ethical and responsible leader. 

Alexander’s track record proves that he is invested in protecting our environment and the taxpayer’s pocket book. As a member of the investigating committee, I hope Alexander steps forward and leads the charge against Pruitt and his reprehensible behavior.  

Andy Spears is executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

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