DeGette and Colleagues Demand Answers from EPA Head Pruitt on Shady Housing Arrangement
Washington, DC – Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) and two other Energy and Commerce Democratic Leaders sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt today demanding answers about his troubling Washington, D.C. housing arrangement during a six-month period in 2017 in which he rented a room for $50 a night in a home co-owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist. The three Committee leaders requested a response to all of their questions by April 16, one week before Pruitt is set to testify before the Committee.
The letter was signed by DeGette, who is Ranking Member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, together with Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) Oversight and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY).
“We are concerned that the unique rental arrangement, in which you only paid rent on the nights you were in town for use of one bedroom in the home, could be a potential conflict of interest,” the three Democrats wrote to Administrator Pruitt. “As Administrator, you have taken a number of actions to benefit industries regulated by EPA, and this news raises the possibility that you may have personally benefited from your relationship with industry. Specifically, these reports raise serious questions as to whether this arrangement unduly influenced any decisions you made that potentially affected the business of William and Jensen clients.”
The Democrats voiced concern that Pruitt’s actions could be a violation of the ethics pledge he signed upon becoming EPA Administrator. The ethics pledge that Administrator Pruitt signed states, “I will not accept gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations for the duration of my service as an appointee.” According to records, the energy lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, is the Chairman of the lobbying firm Williams and Jensen, which counts among its clients numerous businesses with both direct and indirect energy and environmental interests.
In order to understand whether his arrangements complied with all applicable federal ethics regulations and agency policies, the three Democratic Committee leaders are requesting responses from Pruitt on a series of questions and requests for information, including:
- How did you identify and obtain use of this property? Was the rental publically advertised, were you contacted by the owner(s) or an intermediary, or did you or anybody operating on your behalf solicit the use of the property? Please share any and all documents pertaining to the rental of this property by you and other members of your family.
- Press reports state that you paid a total of $6,100 from March 18 through September 1, 2017, is that correct? If so, what is the breakdown of the payments? If not, what was the total you paid for renting this property?
- What is the fair market rate for this property? Did you pay the fair market rate for the property?
- When you were out of town and not paying rent on the bedroom, did you leave any personal materials in the bedroom or are you aware of whether or not the bedroom was rented when you were not in Washington?
- Press reports suggest that your lease only granted you access to the one bedroom, is this indeed the case? On your nights staying at the home, did you ever have access to the other areas of the house?
- Press reports also indicate that your daughter stayed at the home for a time in another bedroom in the house. Was this bedroom paid for as part of your lease or a separate lease with the owners? If not, how would you explain that this was not a gift?
- Did the Office of Government Ethics and any other EPA ethics official review or approve this agreement? If so, did they raise concerns about this unique arrangement or were they aware that you, or members or your family, might be using other areas of the house besides the one bedroom where you stayed?
The letter to Administrator Pruitt is available here.