Scott Pruitt, the increasingly scandal-mired, climate change-denying chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, met personally at the agency’s headquarters with a lobbyist who later gave him a sweetheart deal on an apartment, despite denials to the contrary.
Per the Guardian, admission that Pruitt and lobbyist Steven Hart had met for official EPA business comes after both had denied that any kind of official rendezvous was the case. Hart, who recently resigned from his role at a DC lobbying firm, worked for a firm representing Smithfield, the livestock giant which is notorious for its giant pools of toxic runoff:
Both Pruitt and lobbyist Steven Hart had previously denied Hart had conducted any recent business with EPA.
A spokesman for Hart confirmed on Saturday that the lobbyist met Pruitt at EPA headquarters in July 2017 to discuss efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay.
The admission about the meeting came after the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen filed a new disclosure report late on Friday, hours after Hart announced his early retirement as chairman. The firm’s filing, first reported by the Hill, says Hart lobbied EPA during the first quarter of 2018 on behalf of Smithfield Foods.
The world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield has been involved with efforts to clean up the bay since EPA fined the company $12.6m in 1997 for illegally dumping hog waste into a tributary.
Hart, whose firm made $70,000 representing Smithfield in the first quarter of 2018, told the Guardian, “I assisted a friend who served on the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and this is inaccurately being tied to Smithfield Foods. I was not paid for this assistance and any suggestion that I lobbied for Smithfield Foods is inaccurate.”
Pruitt has drawn attention for renting a DC-area condo co-owned by Hart’s wife for just $50 a night, significantly below market rate. Reports show that Hart’s name was originally listed as the “landlord” of the unit, but that his name was scribbled out in favor of his wife’s. An EPA lawyer who signed off on the condo deal, Kevin Minoli, later said that he was under the impression the $50 rate referred to occupancy of a single bedroom rather than the entire unit when he reviewed the lease for potential conflicts of interest.
The EPA chief has seen growing ethics problems on other fronts, including allegations he spent lavishly on his own travel costs and reassigned or forced into retirement staff who questioned the mounting expenses. On Saturday, the New York Times reported that Pruitt had similarly ethically sketchy issues surrounding his purchase of a lobbyist’s home in Oklahoma City, where he was working as a state legislator from Tulsa.
The White House officially says it retains full confidence in Pruitt, who has happily carried out the administration’s agenda of slashing the agency to the bone, though this particular president has a habit of saying that right up until the point where he fires top-ranking officials.