Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt got a sweetheart $50-a-night deal on a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist, according to reports.
Pruitt only paid for nights he stayed at the Washington apartment, writing checks sporadically for a total of $6,100 over the course of six months last year.
The deal allowed Pruitt to pay for the use of a single bedroom in the unit, but did not allow him to use common areas where the owners had dinner parties and other functions, a source told Bloomberg.
Three units inside the building are listed as belonging to a corporation co-owned by the wife of J. Steven Hart, the chairman and CEO of the lobbying firm Williams and Jensen.
Hart’s clients include Exxon Mobil Corp. and the major liquefied natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy Inc.
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 Associated Press. “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.”
Market-rate rents in the area typically run more than $3,000 for a two bedroom apartment.
Pruitt, the former state attorney general of Oklahoma, has long enjoyed a close relationship with the oil and gas industries. He repeatedly sued the EPA while attorney general in an effort to scale back regulations and aid corporate interests.
Since being appointed by President Trump, Pruitt has repeatedly raised eyebrows for meetings with various industry executives and lobbyists while the EPA was considering revising rules that regulated them.
Environmental groups said that Pruitt’s living arrangements were just another example of his cozying up with polluters.
“Scott Pruitt, who is supposed to protect our families from pollution, literally lived in a fossil fuel lobbyist’s house,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. “The administrator of the EPA should stand up to corporate polluters, not live in their homes while pushing their agenda at every turn.”
Pruitt has taken several bold moves to scrap, gut or replace numerous environmental regulations opposed by the oil and gas giants while boosting the continued burning of fossil fuels, which is the primary cause of climate change.
Pruitt has also faced criticism for his penchant for first class flights, round-the-clock security and fancy accommodations while traveling.
Documents uncovered earlier this month revealed that Pruitt spent more than $120,000 in public funds for a trip to Italy. In total, he has spent more than $105,000 on first-class airfare alone since February 2017. Pruitt has said he needs to fly in first class for security reasons.
In December, Pruitt and members of his staff spent about $40,000 in taxpayer funds to fly to Morocco to encourage the North African kingdom to import liquefied natural gas from the U.S.
Cheniere, which is listed as a client of Hart’s lobbying firm, is currently the only exporter of liquefied natural gas from the continental United States.
Last year, Cheniere Energy Inc. reported paying Hart’s firm $80,000.
Hart maintains that he has had no contact with Pruitt for months.
“Pruitt paid all rent owed as agreed to in the lease,” he told the Associated Press. “My wife does not, and has not ever lobbied the EPA on any matters.”
Hart’s wife, Vicki Hart, is also a lobbyist, focusing on health care issues.
The EPA did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment Pruitt’s living arrangements.
Justina Fugh, the EPA ethics counsel told Bloomberg News that the condo wasn’t an ethics issue because Pruitt paid rent.
“He paid a fair price for what amounts to just a room,” Fugh said. “So I don’t even think that the fact that the house is owned by a person whose job is to be a lobbyist causes us concern.”