Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt rented a luxury apartment in Washington, D.C. from a lobbyist friend for $50 a night in a pricey Capitol Hill neighborhood, amounting to $6,100 over a six-month period in 2017.
Many one-bedroom apartments in the same Capitol Hill neighborhood rent for twice as much as Pruitt would pay for his apartment if he rented it for an entire month, according to a ThinkProgress analysis of rental sites.
Norm Eisen, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Washington think tank Brookings Institution and chairman of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said the $50-per-day rate is “way below market” rate.
The apartment’s co-owner is a health care lobbyist named Vicki Hart. Her husband, Steven Hart, is chairman and CEO of Williams and Jensen PLLC, a lobbying firm with several energy industry clients regulated by the EPA. The firm’s clients include ExxonMobil and Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., which paid the firm $400,000 in 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg that was provided by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.
Government ethics officials will have to decide whether the renting of the apartment at a likely below-market rate constitutes a gift.
Government ethics rules generally prohibit executive branch employees from accepting gifts from outside the government if the gifts are given because of their official positions or by prohibited sources. Prohibited sources include those who seek official action by the employees’ agencies, do business or seek to do business with their agencies, or conduct activities regulated by their agencies.
In the case of Steven Hart, his energy industry lobbying clients are clearly impacted by rules and regulations issued by the EPA. One of his other major fossil fuel clients is Cheniere Energy, a developer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals in the United States. Cheniere built the first LNG export terminal in the continental United States. Each of the LNG export shipments in 2017 from the U.S. originated from Cheniere’s Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana.
In December, Pruitt and members of his staff spent about $40,000 in taxpayer funds to fly to Morocco to urge the North African country to import LNG from the United States.
Scott Pruitt spent almost a year living in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of a top lobbyist. Could it constitute an improper gift? We have an ongoing FOIA request concerning Pruitt’s ethics advice. https://t.co/vUGEC0DeXB
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) March 30, 2018
Steven Hart also serves as an outside counsel for the National Rifle Association.
CREW on Thursday questioned whether Pruitt’s living arrangements at the lobbyist’s townhouse could constitute an improper gift. The watchdog group said in a tweet that is has “an ongoing FOIA request concerning Pruitt’s ethics advice.”
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) said Friday that Pruitt “must immediately make clear the terms of his housing agreement with energy lobbyist Steven Hart, clarify whether he received any favorable treatment, and publish all correspondence with Hart or his associates related to Pruitt’s work at the EPA.”
.@EPAScottPruitt must immediately make clear the terms of his housing agreement with energy lobbyist Steven Hart, clarify whether he received any favorable treatment, and publish all correspondence with Hart or his associates related to Pruitt's work at the EPA. https://t.co/ownX3FIRRV
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) March 30, 2018
The EPA had not responded to a request for comment from ThinkProgress about whether Pruitt plans to release more information about the housing arrangement.
Pruitt’s family does not live with him in Washington. His wife, Marlyn Pruitt, lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Pruitt’s daughter McKenna Pruitt, attends law school at the University of Virginia. His son, Cade Pruitt, graduated from Cascia Hall High School in Tulsa in 2017.
Pruitt’s tenure as EPA administrator has been marked by controversy and questionable ethics. He’s made no secret that one of his primary goals as EPA chief is to create fewer regulatory roadblocks for the nation’s top polluters. During his first year as administrator, Pruitt gave dozens of speeches to industry groups whose members are regulated by the EPA.
The revelation about Pruitt paying only $50 a night for housing in Washington, first reported by Bloomberg, comes on the heels of news about Pruitt’s expensive travel habits.
Over a six-month period in 2017, Pruitt and his staffers billed taxpayers nearly $200,000 for his trips over six months last year, including 10 visits to Pruitt’s home city of Tulsa, according to travel receipts obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.
One of the pricey trips was an official visit by Pruitt and his staff to Italy that cost $120,249. On the trip, Pruitt met with international ministers at a G-7 summit in Bologna. Pruitt also went to Rome for a briefing at the US Embassy, a meeting with business leaders, and private tours of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.
ABC News first reported Thursday that Pruitt had been living in the townhouse building on a street near the U.S. Capitol.
In a statement to the Associated Press, Steven Hart said Pruitt is a casual friend from Oklahoma who moved into the building in early 2017. Hart said he has had little contact with Pruitt over the past several months aside from a brief exchange at a 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 to the AP. “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.”