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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on June 6th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 14

Run from Trump and Pruitt's EPA

By KEN MCCALIP

Well, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Scott Pruitt finally made the announcement, but will local Mike Stoker, a former Santa Barbara County supervisor, live to regret his recent appointment as Region 9 EPA administrator and his association with President Donald Trump’s EPA? Most competent people run the opposite direction from any appointments to the Trump administration. This gives us two alternatives: Stoker either suffers from incompetence or does not keep up on the news.

The EPA news is dismal to say the least, with nearly a dozen ethics investigations underway concerning Pruitt and the current actions of the EPA under his direction. The probes range the gamut from his travel expenses, his personal security detail, his improper connections to lobbyists, his raises and hiring practices, a $43,000 sound-proof booth for his office, his staff demotions and reassignments, his meeting with the Mining Association, and his conflicts of interest with several appointees to EPA advisory boards. All of these scandals give both the Inspector General’s Office and the Government Accountability Office much to do in the coming months.

To deal with the growing number of scandals, Pruitt has decided to set up a legal defense fund that could create more headaches for him if companies regulated by the EPA choose to contribute to it. This goes beyond his earlier defense strategy of blaming his subordinates for all the misdeeds and claiming he knew nothing about any of it!

Pruitt’s recent April trip and speech at Harvey Coal Mine in Sycamore, Pennsylvania, is an example of not being a steward of clean air, land, and water. This firm has had to pay millions of dollars in fines in the past for repeatedly discharging contaminated wastewater into the Ohio River, but Pruitt did not stress environmental protections. He raved on about protecting coal mining jobs and what he called “Back to Basics” at the EPA. He seemed to be unaware of the fact that cheap natural gas has done more to eliminate coal jobs than environmental regulations.

Bizarrely, security has been on Pruitt’s mind since he became EPA head as he has spent excessive amounts for first-class air travel because he believes he gets “threats” in other than first class, as well as expenditures for a 20-person security detail. Also he had spent $43,000 for a sound-proof phone booth in his office. Personal expenses on the other hand are not on his mind because he limits them by getting good deals on condominiums from an energy lobbyist. Those employees at the EPA who have questioned his activities have been demoted or sidelined.

Pruitt’s recent trip to Marrakesh, Morocco, was arranged and planned by energy lobbyist and longtime friend Richard Smotkin. The trip cost U.S. taxpayers well over $100,000. This included $16,217 for airfare as well as expenses for him to spend one night in Paris as an added perk. He used the trip to promote the sale of U.S. liquefied natural gas.  Energy sales, of course, are not within the purview of the EPA, but it is within the purview of an energy lobbyist.

Pruitt has used a blip in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire, with no oversight, industry lobbyists at the EPA as well as to give huge pay bumps to these same types of individuals. Sarah Greenwalt received a $56,785 bump in yearly pay and Millan Hupp received a $28,130 bump on top of his existing salary. All of this at the expense of the American taxpayers.

Pruitt’s close ties to industry and his use of “pay to play” relationships with the oil industry in Oklahoma has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for him personally since 2002. The New York Times uncovered how attorneys for energy companies wrote letters for Pruitt to forward on to the EPA when he was attorney general in Oklahoma. He was a strong defender at that time of the rights of corporations to pollute, and he repeated lawsuits to weaken the EPA. In addition to questioning the science of global warming, he has challenged our right to breathe clean air and worked against standards for mercury and lead. His appointment to the EPA was a sad day, and he is unfit to lead this government agency.

Amid widening scrutiny of their roles in an array of investigations, two top aides to Pruitt have abruptly quit. First, Pasquale Perrotta, who was chief of security and helped with the unnecessarily large security contingent and secure phone booth, resigned. Second, Albert Kelly, a longtime friend of Pruitt, who with no experience, ran the Superfund program and oversaw the cleanup of hazardous waste sites and was subject to a lifetime ban from the financial industry for banking irregularities, also resigned.

Mike, now that you have caught up on the news, you can run in the other direction or prove to us all that your are incompetent and continue to work for the EPA. 

Ken McCalip is a North Santa Barbara County native who holds degrees in history, cultural geography, and law. Send your thoughts to letters@santamariasun.com.




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