Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing new accusations of ethical violations over his refusal to recuse himself from the process of repealing a landmark power plant rule.
In a letter sent to the EPA on Thursday evening and obtained by HuffPost, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Pruitt’s statements over the past three months indicating he plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from utilities, violate impartiality requirements in the rulemaking process. The letter was signed by eight other states, the District of Columbia, one Florida county and five cities.
“The American people are entitled to an impartial decision-maker,” Becerra said in a statement. “EPA Administrator Pruitt simply cannot be that person. He must be recused from any involvement in the EPA’s attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan.”
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his previous job as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt sued the agency more than a dozen times to block the Clean Power Plan, winning a historic stay in the Supreme Court in February 2016. The rule was left in limbo and, last October, Pruitt initiated the formal process to repeal it.
In January, California led the same coalition ― with Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, the District of Columbia, Florida’s Broward County, and the cities of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, South Miami and Boulder, Colorado ― in filing a formal request calling for Pruitt’s recusal from the repeal effort, arguing that his leading role in the lawsuits that halted the Clean Power Plan made him biased in the new rulemaking process.
Since then, Pruitt has made at least three public remarks indicating he considers the repeal a foregone conclusion, suggesting the public comment period that ended Thursday ― a mandated part of the rulemaking process ― was for show. In comments detailed in the Thursday letter, Pruitt said the Clean Power Plan “is demonstrative of a violation of rule of law,” stated withdrawing the rule “is absolutely an important thing” and affirmed he is “getting rid of” the regulation.
“On January 9, 2018, we underscored that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt could not reasonably claim to have an open mind on the Clean Power Plan and provided over 500 pages of evidence,” Becerra said. “We now have even more information that supports our case.”
The American people are entitled to an impartial decision-maker. EPA Administrator Pruitt simply cannot be that person. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
The new complaint comes after a marathon day of back-to-back House hearings at which Pruitt deflected accusations of corruption, blaming his staff and what he called deceptive media reports for a whirlwind of scandals over the past four weeks. Pruitt admitted he authorized his chief of staff to grant raises to two longtime political aides after the White House rejected the request but denied understanding that a legal loophole was used when the EPA awarded the five-figure salary bumps. The affair became a flashpoint in the ongoing saga over Pruitt’s ethics after the administrator denied knowing about the raises in a tense Fox News interview.
Republicans at the hearings signaled strong support for Pruitt, and admonished Democrats for raising concerns over the ethical lapses. But at least five Republican members of Congress have joined 170 Democrats calling on the administrator to step down over the past month. This week, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who considers Pruitt a friend and protégé, distanced himself from the administrator and said he would support a hearing before the powerful Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. On Monday, Bloomberg reported that the White House had begun urging Republicans to temper their defenses of Pruitt.
“As you know, there have been many press reports about problems at the EPA under your watch,” Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said at the first of two hearings Thursday. “These problems cannot be solved by Congress and this committee .... The solution is between you and President Donald Trump.”