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  • MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt dismisses the scandal over Scott Pruitt's condo rental

    Hewitt, whose son was hired by Pruitt as a press secretary, has been a staunch defender of the EPA chief

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/4): Scott Pruitt hired Hugh Hewitt's son, James Hewitt, as a press secretary at the EPA by exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act -- a move that ethics experts have criticized, according to The Washington Post. Pruitt used this same loophole to make other hires, and to give raises to two aides against the wishes of the White House. Hewitt's son previously worked at Dezenhall Resources Ltd., a public relations firm that has run campaigns attacking environmental groups including Greenpeace. Hugh Hewitt mounted another defense of Pruitt on his radio show on April 4, dismissing the scandals surrounding the EPA chief as "nonsense."

    Original article below.

    Over the past few days, MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt has defended EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s rental of a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, falsely claiming that Pruitt paid market rate for the condo and dismissing ethical concerns many experts have raised about the arrangement. Hewitt’s defense of the rental arrangement is in line with his track record of defending Pruitt from criticism.

    Hewitt defended Pruitt’s ethically dubious $50-a-night lease

    On March 30, ABC News reported that Pruitt had “worked directly with a top energy lobbyist, and without a real estate broker, to set up a $50-a-night rental room in a prime Capitol Hill building co-owned by the lobbyist’s wife during his first six months in Washington.” Under the arrangement, Pruitt paid to rent out one bedroom only on the nights he spent at the condo, even though no other renters stayed in the unit when he was out of town.

    On April 1, Hewitt took to Twitter to defend Pruitt’s leasing setup as “quite common” and dismiss it as a “non-story.”

    Hewitt also claimed that the condo was rented to Pruitt at market rate during a Twitter argument with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle and Republican political consultant Matthew Dowd:

    On April 2, Hewitt appeared on MSNBC Live to claim that Pruitt’s condo lease was appropriate and that criticism of the arrangement was politically motivated: “It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing. I think this is really about policy, Stephanie, as we talked about on Twitter, and I think it’s about the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act]. Specifically, people on the left are upset with Scott Pruitt over the Clean Power Plan, which he repealed; the Waters of the United States [WOTUS], which he repealed; the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards today, which he put up for repeal. He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy on WOTUS and on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”

    Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental was well below market rate for similar units

    Pruitt paid $6,100 over the duration of his six-month stay in the Capitol Hill condo, roughly $1,000 a month. The rate was well below what Pruitt paid for similar housing after he left the condo, as The Washington Post reported:

    After leaving the Capitol Hill condo co-owned by Vicki Hart in July, Pruitt moved to a one-bedroom apartment in an upscale complex in the U Street neighborhood, according to an official with knowledge of the move. One-bedroom units in the building run about $3,000 to $3,500 monthly.

    Several months later, he moved again, signing another lease in a new luxury apartment complex back on Capitol Hill. One-bedroom apartments in the building, which is owned by a large development company, start at about $3,100 per month and go to nearly $4,500.

    ABC News also revealed that Pruitt’s daughter stayed in the second bedroom in the condo for the duration of her White House internship from May to August, during which time Pruitt should have been paying a two-bedroom rate.

    As The Associated Press reported, “Current rental listings for two-bedroom apartments in the [Capitol Hill] neighborhood show they typically go for far more than what Pruitt paid. A two bedroom townhome on the same block as the one leased by Pruitt was advertised for rent on Monday at $3,750 a month. Another two-bedroom unit on the next block was advertised as available for $4,740 a month.”

    Numerous ethics experts have questioned Pruitt’s condo lease

    Despite Hewitt’s assertion that Pruitt’s leasing arrangement was aboveboard, a number of ethics experts expressed concern over Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental.

    Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics, said of Pruitt’s lease, “I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency. That’s why there is a gift rule.”

    After the EPA issued a retroactive ethics approval for Pruitt’s rental arrangement on Friday, Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the ruling “highly unusual” and questioned the logic of the agency's opinion, ABC reported.

    On the March 31 episode of CNN’s New Day Saturday, Water Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said the lease was a gift and the EPA’s ethics ruling left “unanswered questions,” and he debunked many of the EPA’s explanations:

    CHRISTI PAUL (ANCHOR): Now, again, an EPA official told CNN the ethics counsel reviewed this living arrangement, that the ethics issue was not one because he paid rent, they say, and that the landlord was considered a friend and by law, quote, "does not ban federal employees from receiving a gift from a friend." Do you give any credence to those conclusions?

    WALTER SHAUB (CNN CONTRIBUTOR): No, that's silly. And in fact, the EPA released a memo yesterday that was dated yesterday. Pruitt did not go to the EPA ethics office and get advice in advance as to whether this was appropriate. This story broke, and then the EPA tried to come up with a post hoc rationalization, and the rationalization is preposterous.

    They don't actually rely on the alleged friendship, and they really can't because the lobbyist told the press yesterday that they're merely casual friends. That would not meet the standard for an exception of the gift rule based on very close personal relationships where you get a gift under circumstances that it's absolutely clear that the gift was solely motivated by the relationship.

    But the justification they tried to offer which just has about everybody in Washington who's ever looked for an apartment chuckling is the idea that it's perfectly normal in this town to get a prime location -- and this house really is that, it’s right next to the House/Senate office building on Capitol Hill, for $50 a night -- and the owner will hold the house open for you for the -- any night that you don't use it. He won't rent it to anybody else, but you only have to pay for the nights that you actually stay there at well below market rate. There's no doubt that this is a gift and that this is below market rate, and so, the EPA's justification doesn't wash.

    On April 2, The New York Times reported that the EPA signed off on a pipeline project linked to the lobbyist whose wife owned the condo, raising questions about whether there was a connection between the agency’s action and the condo rental. From the Times article:

    Government ethics experts said that the correlation between the E.P.A.’s action and Mr. Pruitt’s lease arrangement — he was renting from the wife of the head of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen — illustrates why such ties to industry players can generate questions for public officials: Even if no specific favors were asked for or granted, it can create an appearance of a conflict.

    “Entering into this arrangement causes a reasonable person to question the integrity of the E.P.A. decision,” said Don Fox, who served as general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics during parts of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

    Hewitt has a history of defending the EPA administrator

    Hewitt’s defense of Pruitt's rental arrangement is just the latest instance of the radio host and MSNBC personality dismissing the EPA administrator’s scandals (of which there are many).   

    For example, after news broke last year about Pruitt spending $58,000 on charter and military flights, Hewitt defended that expense on the September 29 episode of MTP Daily:

    HUGH HEWITT: I want to push back on Pruitt, and -- I don’t know Zinke yet -- but I've studied everything about Pruitt because I'm interested in the EPA and my son works there.

    Those four trips, all preapproved by the [EPA's Office of General Counsel]. He was going to the bottom of Oklahoma in one of them to meet with stakeholders that President Obama never cared about: small farmers, small plot holders, wetland people. It was the Waters of the United States Rule rollback. By all means, throw some attention on that.

    Earlier that day, Hewitt also defended Pruitt on his radio show, arguing that efforts to condemn Pruitt for his travel are “a dry hole.”

    And in March of this year, after additional stories broke about Pruitt’s expensive travel habits, Hewitt attributed criticism of Pruitt’s travel to an “anti-Trump” bias in the media.

    Additionally, when Pruitt received some of his most negative press coverage of 2017, after he denied the scientific consensus on human-made climate change on CNBC, Hewitt provided cover for Pruitt by having him on his radio show and declaring, "I know you are not a climate denier."

  • As pressure over his scandals builds, Scott Pruitt blacklists reporters from EPA announcement

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Update: CNN reports:

    But most reporters who cover the agency weren't in the room, and cameras were nearly non-existent. EPA had previously planned to hold Pruitt's appearance Tuesday at a Chevrolet dealer in Chantilly, Virginia, just outside of Washington, Geoffrey Pohanka with Pohanka Chevrolet told CNN. But the event was canceled, Pohanka said.

    ...

    The event was subsequently moved to EPA headquarters, but with limited press access. A CNN journalist in the building was not allowed into the room for the event. EPA had attempted to allow television camera access to Fox News without informing the other four networks: CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox alerted the networks and a pool was established allowing networks equal access to the event.

    Reporters from Politico, Buzzfeed, and other outlets noted that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt barred them from his April 3 announcement about loosening automobile fuel economy standards. Pruitt is currently under fire for a slew of scandals and seemingly corrupt activities, including a sweetheart deal he got to rent a D.C. condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist.

    The New York Times was initially not invited.

    A CBS reporter who was admitted to the event noted that Pruitt posed with auto industry executives after his announcement but took no questions from members of the press who were let in.

    Pruitt refused to answer an ABC reporter who confronted him over his scandals.

    The Trump administration has a history of blacklisting reporters. In February of 2017, reporters from The New York Times, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed News, and Politico were barred from attending a briefing in then-press secretary Sean Spicer’s office. During the campaign, Trump banned a number of outlets from his events. There are numerous other examples of Trump’s war on the press.

    Pruitt's EPA also has a history of blocking reporters from events as well as dropping them from press release distribution lists and retaliating against them in other ways. Journalists have been escorted out of Pruitt events by police. Reporters from The Associated Press and The New York Times have been personally attacked in official agency press releases. And the EPA has repeatedly refused to give reporters basic information about the agency's staffing and activities.

  • Fox & Friends gives just 20 seconds to Scott Pruitt’s corruption

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is under fire for multiple scandals. Pruitt got a sweetheart deal to rent a swanky Washington, D.C., condo for $50 a night from the wife of a top lobbyist, paying only for the nights he was in town. Pruitt's adult daughter also stayed in the condo, violating the terms of the lease. That lobbyist then got what he wanted from the EPA. The Atlantic now reports that Pruitt went around the White House giving big raises to two top aides. And that's on top of ongoing scandals about Pruitt's high-priced travel and coziness with industry execs.

    President Donald Trump reportedly called Pruitt on the evening of April 2 to offer him words of encouragement.

    The next morning, Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite show, covered Pruitt's scandals for just 20 seconds in a headlines segment.

    On America’s Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer downplayed Pruitt’s corruption, falsely reporting that Pruitt is just "under fire from some for a housing arrangement he had during the transition period." Hemmer failed to mention that Pruitt had been underpaying for his lobbyist-owned Washington, D.C., apartment for six months.

    These new misdeeds follow a long line of Pruitt scandals and corruption:

    • Pruitt lied to senators about his use of a private email account.
    • An EPA appointee appeared to violate Trump's ethics order on lobbyists.
    • Pruitt met with oil executives at Trump’s hotel in Washington D.C., then backed away from a regulation on oil companies.
    • Pruitt gave a Superfund job to a failed banker whose bank had given loans to Pruitt.
    • Pruitt's security team drew staff away from criminal investigations.
    • Pruitt spent nearly $43,000 on a private soundproof booth.
    • Pruitt spent more than $58,000 on charter and military flights during his first seven months at EPA.
    • Pruitt met with a mining CEO, then immediately started clearing the way for his proposed mine.
    • Pruitt spent $40,000 on a trip to Morocco to promote natural gas.
    • The EPA hired a GOP opposition research firm whose vice president had investigated EPA employees.
    • Pruitt spent $90,000 on first-class flights and other travel in a single week.
    • Pruitt flew luxury business class on a foreign airline.
    • Pruitt met with trucking executives, then preserved a loophole to benefit their company.
    • The EPA has been hit with a record number of anti-secrecy lawsuits.
    • An EPA public affairs official was given the OK to do outside media consulting.
    • EPA awarded a bug-sweeping contract to a business associate of Pruitt’s head of security.
    • Almost half of EPA political appointees have strong industry ties.
    • Pruitt appointed the vice president of a polluting company to the EPA’s environmental justice advisory council.
    • Pruitt spread a bogus story about how much Obama’s EPA chiefs spent on travel, got friendly journalists to cite the story, and then cited that story to defend himself.
  • How Scott Pruitt's EPA is attacking journalists and stifling the media

    EPA takes up Trump’s war on the press by insulting media outlets, withholding information, and flouting public records requests

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post was updated on 5/23/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    Since Scott Pruitt took the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency in early 2017, the EPA has consistently refused to release basic information, blocked reporters from attending agency events, and attacked journalists and outlets whose coverage it didn't like. This antagonistic stance toward the media mirrors President Donald Trump’s unprecedented war against the press, which Media Matters has chronicled.

    Seeking a reset after a year of the agency’s attacks and obfuscation, the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) sent a letter to the EPA’s press office in January in the hopes of improving journalists’ access to EPA information and "begin[ning] a conversation about journalists’ basic needs." The letter made five requests, which the group summarized on its website:

    1. Respond to inquiries in a meaningful and timely manner, arranging interviews with subject matter experts.
    1. Distribute all press releases and advisories, to all who request them, not just to a select audience.
    1. Hold open press briefings on significant news. Invite all regular beat reporters to in-person briefings held at EPA headquarters; provide web conferencing and teleconference access for all interested reporters outside the Washington area.
    1. Reinstate the practice of publishing a weekly list of the EPA administrator’s scheduled public appearances.
    1. Resume the practice of publishing an up-to-date calendar of all the EPA administrator’s meetings — not just public events.

    The EPA failed to respond to SEJ’s letter -- or to a follow-up inquiry -- so the group released the letter publicly in March. SEJ sent the EPA another letter on March 30 calling on the agency to “answer reporters' questions directly, rather than referring them to published articles by their favored media," as summarized on the SEJ website.

    Here are more than 20 examples of Pruitt's EPA assailing the press or frustrating journalists' efforts to cover the agency's actions.

    EPA withholds Pruitt’s schedule from the press. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who headed the agency under President Barack Obama from 2013 to early 2017, shared her schedule on the EPA website every day, but Pruitt, like many other members of Trump's cabinet, withholds basic information about his activities. According to Politico, the EPA has refused “to provide schedules or advisories of his upcoming meetings, confirm his attendance at specific events, or say what city he plans to be in on a given day." As a result, news outlets and watchdog groups have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits to obtain his calendars. When the EPA has eventually responded and released information about Pruitt's schedule, it has generally been bare-bones, partially redacted, or months late.

    EPA spokesperson: “Pruitt does not want open press." While coordinating logistics for a roundtable discussion Pruitt held at the University of North Dakota with the state's senior senator, John Hoeven (R), and governor, Doug Burgum (R), EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox asked that reporters not be permitted to attend, E&E News reported. Hoeven had wanted to include media, but Wilcox wrote to Burgum’s staffers that “most importantly Pruitt does not want open press." After being informed that reporters had already been invited to the last 15 minutes of the event, Wilcox insisted, “We can't have anything open."

    EPA spokesperson called police on North Dakota reporters trying to cover Pruitt event. EPA spokesperson Wilcox threatened to call the police on two reporters from the Grand Forks Herald who were attempting to cover Pruitt’s August 9 visit to the University of North Dakota. The Herald reported that after Wilcox made his threat, “A UND Police officer then arrived to insist the building and its grounds were private property before demanding the reporters move away from the center's front door. … The EERC is not private property and is owned by UND."

    EPA asked radio host not to take listener calls during interview with Pruitt. During his August 9 visit to North Dakota, Pruitt sat for a joint interview with Gov. Burgum, conducted by local talk radio host Scott Hennen. Hennen normally takes listener calls during his show, but documents obtained by E&E News show that EPA spokesperson Wilcox asked him not to during the Pruitt interview, and Hennen acquiesced.

    EPA terminated funding for a nonprofit newspaper after it reported that Trump's budget cuts would hurt the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay Journal, a nonprofit newspaper that covers environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay region and reaches approximately 100,000 readers, has been partially funded by the EPA since 1991. Last June, the paper reported that Trump's proposed budget would slash funding for Chesapeake Bay programs and harm restoration efforts. In August, the EPA abruptly canceled a previously approved $325,000 grant to the paper due to a “shift in priorities." The Bay Journal requested records pertaining to the termination, which EPA failed to produce, so the paper sued. Under pressure from Maryland's Democratic senators, the EPA restored the Bay Journal’s funding in March.  

    EPA attacked NY Times reporters in press release over pesticide story. On August 18, The New York Times published a story detailing how the EPA disregarded the advice of agency scientists by refusing to ban a harmful pesticide after Pruitt met with farming industry executives and told them he was listening to their pleas. Three days later, the EPA issued a press release attacking the story and accusing the reporters, Eric Lipton and Roni Caryn Rabin, of reporting "false facts" and omitting "inconvenient facts." Though the EPA did not dispute any of the story’s specific factual claims, the press release also stated that "the New York Times never lets the truth get in the way of a good story."

    EPA attacked AP reporter in press release over toxic-site story. On September 2, The Associated Press published a story on toxic sites flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple later declared to be "factually sound." But the EPA issued a press release criticizing the story and attacking the credibility of the AP and Michael Biesecker, one of the reporters who wrote it. "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story," the agency’s release read. The press release also included a statement from EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman that accused the AP of attempting to “mislead Americans” by “cherry-picking facts.” To bolster its attack on Biesecker and the AP, the release cited a Breitbart News article. 

    EPA dropped AP reporter from its email list and criticized him for not opening positive emails about Pruitt. The EPA had been unhappy with AP reporter Biesecker even before he published his story about toxic site flooding after Harvey. When The Washington Post's Wemple asked the EPA about its ongoing conflict with Biesecker, an agency official said that the EPA had removed Biesecker from its master email list, explaining, “We don’t think he’s a trustworthy reporter.” An EPA official also told the Post that the agency monitored which journalists opened its emailed press releases: “We are able to see who opens our emails,” the official said. “Michael [Biesecker] very rarely opens a positive story about [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt. He only opens stories where he tries to create problems.”

    EPA warned employees against leaking to the press. The EPA required employees to attend training sessions that warned them of the dangers of leaking sensitive information to the media, The Associated Press reported. During the mandatory training, employees were given a fact sheet that detailed how leaks have harmed America in the past and warned, "Enemies of the United States are relentless in their pursuit of information which they can exploit to harm US interests."

    EPA spokesperson misled NY Times reporter. In a talk at Yale, New York Times climate reporter Lisa Friedman recounted an instance in October when an EPA spokesperson gave her inaccurate information. Per the Yale Daily News, Friedman "said a spokesman for the EPA disputed the claim that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt planned to announce the decision [to roll back the Clean Power Plan] in Kentucky with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The spokesman told her that 'it was not accurate' to say that Pruitt was going to make such an announcement.” Friedman then told the audience, “Except for it was absolutely accurate, and Fox News was invited.” Friedman also said, “Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA. It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”

    EPA accused NY Times reporter of being “biased” and “writing elitist click bait.” When Times reporter Lipton sent detailed questions to the EPA about the agency loosening regulations on toxic chemicals, EPA spokesperson Bowman refused to answer his queries. Instead, she sent a caustic comment by email: “No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece. The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist click bait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.” Lipton quoted her comment in his article.

    EPA refused to confirm basic facts to NY Times reporter, then accused him of stealing from other news outlets. The Washington Post's Wemple reported further details on Lipton's back-and-forth with the EPA about his story on toxic chemical regulations. Lipton asked EPA spokesperson Bowman to confirm reports that Michael Dourson, Trump's nominee to head the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, began working at the EPA before being confirmed by the Senate. Bowman referred Lipton to stories published by USA Today and E&E News, which Lipton took as confirmation. Then EPA spokesperson Wilcox jumped into email chain, interjecting, “If you want to steal work from other outlets and pretend like it’s your own reporting that is your decision.” After Lipton explained to both spokespersons that basic fact-checking is critical to avoiding “Fake News,” Wilcox, ccing USA Today’s and E&E News’ reporters, replied to Lipton, “Adding the two outlets who you want to steal their work from to this email.”

    EPA had police remove reporter from Pruitt event in Iowa. Ethan Stoetzer, a journalist with InsideSources Iowa, never received a response after trying repeatedly to contact the EPA to RSVP for a December 1 event where Pruitt would be speaking at a cattle company headquarters in Iowa. The event was invite-only, but media were permitted to attend. According to his reporting, Stoetzer showed up to the event site and was initially allowed to enter the press booth. But then he “was approached by a Story County Sheriff’s Deputy, as well as several staff members of both the EPA and Couser Cattle Company, who did not give their names when asked, and was told that he had to leave the premises.” He reported that other members of the media who had not RSVP’d were allowed to remain at the event. EPA spokesperson Wilcox did not reply to repeated questions about why Stoetzer was forced off the premises.

    EPA hired Republican opposition-research firm to conduct "war room"-style media monitoring. The EPA awarded a no-bid contract worth $120,000 to an opposition-research firm, Definers Corp, that not only has deep connections to the Republican establishment, but is also tied to a research group that had been “looking for information that could undermine employees who had criticized the E.P.A.,” as The New York Times reported. Under the contract, Definers would provide the EPA with “‘war room’-style media monitoring, analysis, and advice," Mother Jones reported. The controversial contract was rescinded after media reports led to political outcry.

    EPA misled press about Pruitt's travel, then stonewalled. After journalists reported in February 2018 on Pruitt’s exorbitant travel expenses, EPA Node Menu spokesperson Wilcox initially told Politico that Pruitt had received a blanket waiver to travel first or business class. But a spokesperson for the General Services Administration, which oversees rules about officials' travel, told Politico that it does not issue blanket waivers. Wilcox then changed his story and said that Pruitt submits a request for a waiver for each trip. Refusing to answer further questions about Pruitt’s travel, Wilcox directed reporters to use FOIA to request additional information, "a process that can take months or years," Politico noted.

    EPA to reporters: You'll have to wait a year for responses to your FOIA requests. The EPA has been slow in responding to FOIA requests about Pruitt's office from media organizations and other groups, according to an analysis by the Project on Government Oversight. The agency had closed only about 17 percent of records requests related to Pruitt’s activities as of February, Politico reported. This aligns with the anecdotal stories of journalists who, when not ignored by the EPA, were informed that it would take a year to receive responses to their records requests. CNBC reported in February on a lawsuit filed against EPA alleging the agency "has systematically refused to document 'essential activities' under Pruitt, and higher-ups are creating a culture in which career employees are discouraged from creating written records."

    EPA tried to prevent news outlets from covering Pruitt’s announcement of vehicle efficiency rollbacks. After granting Fox News permission to cover Pruitt’s announcement that the agency would be revising Obama-era vehicle emissions and mileage standards, EPA officials tried to stop other television networks from reporting on the event. As CNN reported on April 3, “EPA had attempted to allow television camera access to Fox News without informing the other four networks: CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox alerted the networks and a pool was established allowing networks equal access to the event.” EPA public affairs officials also made little effort to inform other journalists about the event. According to CNN, “There were several journalists [at the event], including from The New York Times, Bloomberg and ABC News, according to one reporter in attendance, who added that it sounded like many of the reporters were notified of the event individually just before it took place and ran over. EPA did not send a wide notice of the event to the agency press list.”

    Pruitt has used multiple email addresses, which could hamper fulfillment of FOIA requests by media outlets and others. After learning that Pruitt uses three secret EPA email addresses in addition to his official email address, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Carper (D-DE) asked the EPA’s inspector general on April 10 to investigate if Pruitt “may be withholding information from the public in violation of valid FOIA requests.” On May 2, the inspector general said his office plans to open an investigation into whether the EPA is violating the Federal Records Act.

    EPA press office engaged in “questionable activities” that may have violated federal rules, Sierra Club alleged in a lawsuit. Via a Twitter thread posted on April 20, Sierra Club attorney Elena Saxonhouse announced that her group had sued the EPA for failing to provide public records related to the activities of the agency’s Office of Public Affairs. Saxonhouse alleged that the office had engaged in a number of “questionable activities,” which included “creating a right-wing media echo chamber for Pruitt,” “contracting with a firm whose stated goal is to take down Democrats,” and reportedly working to secretly place anti-Paris climate accord op-eds in newspapers, among other things. Sierra Club requested the records to determine if these actions violated rules barring the use of agency money for "self-aggrandizement," "purely partisan" communications, and "covert propaganda." The EPA was recently forced to turn over more than 24,000 pages of documents to the Sierra Club after losing a previous FOIA lawsuit to the organization.

    Pruitt aides have slowed FOIA releases so they can increase vetting of records requests related to his actions. “Top aides to Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency are screening public records requests related to the embattled administrator, slowing the flow of information released under the Freedom of Information Act — at times beyond what the law allows,” Politico reported on May 6. Based on internal emails obtained by the outlet, the EPA’s political appointees also reprimanded career officials who released public records without letting Pruitt’s aides screen them first. Although other administrations have also requested that political aides be allowed to screen certain releases before they are made public, a FOIA expert quoted by Politico said, “This does look like the most burdensome review process that I've seen documented."

    EPA blocked AP, CNN, E&E News, and Politico from attending a summit on water contaminants and had an AP reporter physically removed from the building. “The Environmental Protection Agency temporarily barred journalists and the public from a national summit Tuesday addressing toxic chemicals contamination in drinking water, a week after top agency officials' effort to delay publication of a study on those chemicals came to light,” Politico reported on May 22. When an AP reporter asked to speak with public affairs personnel to learn why the outlet was barred from the event, “the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building,” AP reported. Although the EPA relented after news of the incident spread and allowed the press to cover the second half of the event on May 22, the agency still blocked reporters from covering the subsequent day of the summit on May 23.

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Scott Pruitt's EPA

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of controversies during Pruitt's time in office

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & EVLONDO COOPER

    This post was updated on 4/24/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    The Trump presidency has been called the most unethical in modern history, with its scandals continuously dominating the news cycle. And the questionable ethical behavior extends far beyond the White House to cabinet members and the departments and agencies they oversee, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Journalists covering the EPA have unearthed a litany of scandals, conflicts of interest, extravagant expenditures, and ethically dubious actions involving administrator Scott Pruitt and other politically appointed officials. Here is an overview of the reporting on ethical scandals at Pruitt’s EPA, starting a week after he was sworn in and continuing up to the present:

    February 24, 2017, KOKH: Pruitt lied to senators about his use of a private email account. An investigation by Oklahoma City Fox affiliate KOKH revealed that Pruitt lied during his Senate confirmation hearing when he said he did not use a private email account to conduct official business while he was attorney general of Oklahoma, a finding later confirmed by the office of the attorney general. The Oklahoma Bar Association subsequently opened an investigation into the matter, which could lead to Pruitt being disbarred in the state of Oklahoma.

    May 17, 2017, ThinkProgress: An EPA appointee appeared to violate Trump's ethics order on lobbyists. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to Pruitt on May 16 noting that EPA appointee Elizabeth “Tate” Bennett had lobbied both the Senate and the House on EPA regulations as recently as 2016 -- an apparent violation of Trump’s ethics executive order barring former lobbyists from participating in any government matter related to their past lobbying within two years of their appointment.

    June 16, 2017, Bloomberg: Pruitt met with oil executives at Trump’s D.C. hotel, then backed away from a regulation on oil companies. On March 22, Pruitt met with oil executives who sit on the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors, and less than three weeks later, the EPA announced that it was reconsidering a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to control methane leaks. The meeting took place at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., which Time has called a “dealmaker’s paradise” for “lobbyists and insiders.”

    August 28, 2017, E&E News: Pruitt gave a Superfund job to a failed banker whose bank had given loans to Pruitt. In May, Pruitt appointed Albert “Kell” Kelly to head a task force on the EPA’s Superfund program, even though Kelly had been fined $125,000 by federal banking regulators and banned for life from banking activity because of misdeeds committed when he was CEO of Oklahoma-based SpiritBank. Kelly had no previous experience working on environmental issues and, as ThinkProgress reported in February 2018, he had a financial stake in Phillips 66, an oil company that the EPA had deemed responsible for contaminating areas in Louisiana and Oregon. In previous years, Kelly’s bank had given a loan to Pruitt to purchase a share in a minor league baseball team and provided acquisition financing when the team was sold. The bank had also provided three mortgage loans to Pruitt and his wife, as The Intercept reported in December.

    September 20, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt's security team drew staff away from criminal investigations. Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail -- the first-ever round-the-clock protection detail for an EPA administrator -- required triple the manpower of his predecessors' security teams and pulled in special agents who would have otherwise spend their time investigating environmental crimes.

    September 26, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent about $43,000 on a private soundproof booth, violating federal spending law. The Post reported on September 26 that the EPA spent nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in Pruitt’s office, even though there was another such booth on a different floor at EPA headquarters. No previous EPA administrators had such a setup, the Post reported. On March 14, the Post reported that the EPA also spent more than $18,000 on prep work required before the private phone booth could be installed, which put its total cost “closer to $43,000.” On April 16, a Government Accountability Office report found that Pruitt’s use of agency funds for the booth violated federal rules. Agency heads are required to notify Congress in advance when office improvement expenditures exceed $5,000. Two days later, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that his office is investigating Pruitt’s spending on the booth.

    September 27, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $58,000 on charter and military flights. Pruitt took at least four noncommerical and military flights that together cost taxpayers more than $58,000. The most expensive of these was a $36,000 flight on a military jet from Ohio, where Pruitt had joined Trump at an event promoting an infrastructure plan, to New York, where Pruitt then set off on a trip to Italy.

    October 24, 2017, CNN: Pruitt met with a mining CEO, then immediately started clearing the way for his proposed mine. In May, Pruitt sat down with the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, the company seeking to build the controversial Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. Just hours after that meeting, he directed the EPA to withdraw an Obama-era proposal to protect the ecologically rich area from certain mining activities. (In January 2018, Pruitt reversed his decision without explanation.)

    December 12, 2017, Wash. Examiner: Pruitt made a costly trip to Morocco to promote natural gas. In December, Pruitt flew to Morocco to promote natural gas exports during talks with Moroccan officials, as first reported by The Washington Examiner. E&E reported that the trip cost nearly $40,000, according to an EPA employee. The Washington Post reported, “The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that the EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

    December 15, 2017, Mother Jones/NY Times: The EPA hired a GOP opposition research firm whose VP had investigated EPA employees. Mother Jones reported that the EPA awarded a $120,000 contract to Definers Corp., a Republican PR firm specializing in opposition research and finding damaging information on individuals, to do what the firm describes as "war room"-style media monitoring. According to The New York Times, Definers Vice President Allan Blutstein had submitted at least 40 Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA targeting employees that he deemed “resistance" figures critical of Pruitt or the Trump administration. After the contract was exposed, the EPA canceled it.

    February 11, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $90,000 on first-class flights and other travel in a single week. During a stretch in early June, Pruitt racked up at least $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs, including first-class, business-class, and military flights. The figure did not include the cost of Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail accompanying him on those trips. One first-class flight was for an overnight trip to New York, where Pruitt made two media appearances to praise Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. According to the Post, “[EPA] records show that wherever Pruitt’s schedule takes him, he often flies first or business class, citing unspecified security concerns.” The Associated Press later reported that, for travel where Pruitt had to foot the bill himself, the EPA head flew coach, according to an EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt’s security spending. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Trey Gowdy (R-SC), demanded documentation and explanation for Pruitt’s first- and business-class work travel, but Pruitt missed the chairman’s March 6 deadline to turn over documents. As of April 11, the EPA still hadn’t provided all requested documents, so Gowdy sent Pruitt another letter demanding the information. Later reporting by The Associated Press found that Pruitt flew coach when taxpayers were not footing the bill.

    February 13, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt flew luxury business class on a foreign airline. Pruitt broke with government rules requiring employees to fly on U.S. carriers. He got a waiver to return home from Milan, Italy, in June on Emirates Airline in what CBS described as “one of the world’s most luxurious business class cabins.”

    February 15, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt met with trucking executives, then preserved a loophole to benefit their company. In May, Pruitt met with executives from Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a company that sells big-rig trucks with retrofitted diesel engines. They were seeking to preserve a loophole that exempted Fitzgerald’s trucks from emission rules. Pruitt announced in November that he would provide the exemption, citing a Fitzgerald-funded Tennessee Tech study that found the company’s trucks emitted no more pollution than trucks with modern emissions systems. But just days after Pruitt made his announcement, EPA staffers published findings that Fitzgerald trucks emit 43 to 55 times as much air pollution as new trucks. And after The New York Times reported on the story, Tennessee Tech's president disavowed the Fitzgerald-funded study and asked the EPA to disregard it. The EPA responded by claiming to the Times that it "did not rely upon the study," even though Pruitt had cited it in making his announcement about the exemption. In April, four Republican senators and 10 Republican House members sent Pruitt a letter asking him to close the loophole.

    February 26, 2018, Politico: The EPA has been hit with a record number of anti-secrecy lawsuits. A Politico analysis found that the EPA has “experienced a huge surge in open records lawsuits since President Donald Trump took office” and that 2017 was “the busiest calendar year by far for open-records cases brought against EPA, according to data stretching back to 1992.” A separate analysis by the Project on Government Oversight found that the EPA has been especially slow in resolving Freedom of Information Act requests.

    March 5, 2018, E&E News/AP: An EPA public affairs official was given the OK to do outside media consulting. John Konkus, a top political aide to Pruitt who works in the EPA's public affairs office, was granted permission to work as a media consultant outside of his agency work. In August, when the arrangement was approved, Konkus had “two likely clients” for his outside work and anticipated adding more in the next six months. The EPA has not disclosed who those clients were. Konkus, a former Trump campaign aide, had been put in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that the EPA distributes annually -- an "unusual" arrangement, as The Washington Post reported in September. According to the Post, "Konkus has told staff that he is on the lookout for 'the double C-word' — climate change — and repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

    March 6, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA awarded a bug-sweeping contract to a business associate of Pruitt’s head of security. The head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, advised EPA officials to hire his business associate for a contract to conduct a sweep of Pruitt’s office for concealed listening devices, a source told The Washington Post. Perrotta’s move prompted Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to ask the EPA for documentation that Perrotta obeyed federal conflict-of-interest rules.

    March 8, 2018, AP: Almost half of EPA political appointees have strong industry ties. An analysis conducted by The Associated Press found that “nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate. Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.”

    March 8, 2018, The New Republic: Pruitt appointed the vice president of a polluting company to the EPA’s environmental justice advisory council. On March 7, Pruitt announced the addition of eight new members to the agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, one of whom was Michael Tilchin, a vice president of CH2M Hill, a big engineering firm. The New Republic reported that since February 2017, CH2M Hill’s work at the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear weapons production facility in Washington state, “has sparked at least three accidental releases of plutonium dust, which emits alpha radiation—'the worst kind of radiation to get inside your body,’ according to KING-TV, the Seattle-based news station that’s been investigating the incidents.” Dozens of workers at the site have tested positive for internal plutonium contamination in the wake of the releases.

    March 28, 2018, Politico: EPA signs research agreement with firm tied to GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. In March of 2017, Pruitt met with executives from Water-Gen, a technology firm based in Israel, at the behest of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and Pruitt had a second meeting with a Water-Gen executive in May. In January of this year, the EPA agreed to study Water-Gen's technology, an “atmospheric water generator” that the company claims can pull drinkable water out of the air and thereby provide clean water in remote areas with poor infrastructure. The meeting came to light after activists sued the EPA and forced the agency to produce Pruitt’s calendar. Important details about the arrangement, including Adelson’s relationship with the company, are still unknown.

    March 28, 2018, HuffPost: EPA gave employees talking points based on Pruitt’s lukewarm climate denial. Staffers at the EPA received an email on March 27 from the Office of Public Affairs with a list of eight approved talking points about climate change, echoing lines that Pruitt likes to use when discussing the topic. Point No. 5 is one the administrator has repeated often: "Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue."

    March 29, 2018, ABC News/Bloomberg: Pruitt paid below-market rent for a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. For the first half of 2017, Pruitt lived at a prime Capitol Hill address in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, wife of energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart. ABC News reported that, instead of contracting with a real estate broker, Pruitt worked directly with Steven Hart to arrange the $50-a-night rental agreement, with rent having to be paid only for the nights Pruitt stayed in the unit. ABC also reported that Pruitt's daughter used a second room in the condo from May to August, in apparent violation of the lease agreement. The EPA reimbursed the condo association $2,460 after Pruitt’s security team kicked in the door, mistakenly believing his safety was in jeopardy. While Pruitt was living in the condo, and paying well below market rate, the EPA gave its approval for expansion of the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline, directly benefiting Enbridge Inc., a client of Hart’s lobbying firm, according to The New York Times. Also, Steven Hart “was personally representing a natural gas company, an airline giant, and a major manufacturer that had business before the agency at the time he was also renting out a room to Pruitt,” according to The Daily Beast, and the Harts have donated to Pruitt's political campaigns since 2010. After the condo story broke, EPA’s top ethics watchdog said that he didn’t have all the information he needed when he initially determined that Pruitt’s rental arrangement did not violate federal rules, and the federal government’s top ethics official sent a letter to the EPA expressing concern over Pruitt’s living arrangements, travel, and reports that Pruitt retaliated against officials questioning his spending. And on April 21, The Hill reported that Pruitt met with Steven Hart last year on behalf a client, an executive linked to Smithfield Foods, according to a newly filed disclosure from Hart's firm. Hart and Smithfield contend that the meeting was about philanthropy and did not constitute lobbying, but the disclosure still appears to contradict Hart’s earlier statement that he had not lobbied the EPA during 2017 and 2018 as well as Pruitt’s earlier claim that “Hart has no clients that have business before this agency.”

    March 29, 2018, The Intercept: Nominee to head Superfund program is lawyer with long record of defending polluting companies. Pruitt has repeatedly claimed that he wants to prioritize the EPA Superfund program, which cleans up sites contaminated by industry. But Trump’s nominee to oversee the Superfund program, Peter Wright, seems unlikely to help the cause. As The Intercept reported, "For the last quarter-century, he has defended companies responsible for some of the biggest of these industrial disasters, including Dow Chemical, where he has worked for more than 18 years, and Monsanto, where he worked for seven years before that." Nonetheless, Pruitt enthusiastically endorsed Wright's nomination. 

    March 30, 2018, CNN: Taxpayers paid for Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail during his personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. Pruitt’s security team accompanied him on trips home to Oklahoma as well as on a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, according to a letter that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and shared with CNN.

    April 2, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA staff looked into the possibility of leasing a private jet for Pruitt’s travel. Pruitt’s aides contacted NetJets, a company that leases private planes, about "leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis" to accommodate Pruitt’s travel needs. After receiving NetJets’ quote of about $100,000 a month, senior officials objected and the plan was abandoned.

    April 3, 2018, The Atlantic: The White House told Pruitt he could not give two of his closest aides a pay raise, but he used a loophole to do it anyway. In March, Pruitt sought permission from the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office for substantial pay increases for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. The White House said no. Pruitt then exploited a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase Greenwalt’s salary from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s salary from $86,460 to $114,590.

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt may have violated ethics rules by having his aide research housing arrangements for his family. Millan Hupp, whose salary Pruitt boosted by 33 percent against the White House’s wishes, did considerable legwork to help Pruitt and his wife find a home last summer. This may have been an ethics violation, as federal officials are barred from having their staff do personal tasks for them, according to ethics experts. 

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt abused a little-known loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire loyalists and ex-lobbyists. In 1977, Congress passed an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act allowing the EPA to hire expert personnel without Senate or White House approval. The section was added to ensure the agency could hire the staff it needed to protect public health, but Pruitt broke from tradition and used the provision to “bring in former lobbyists along with young spokesmen and schedulers,” according to The Washington Post. Pruitt’s controversial hires included loyalists from his home state of Oklahoma, former industry lobbyists such as Nancy Beck, and James Hewitt, the son of radio host and MSNBC personality Hugh Hewitt -- one of Pruitt's most ardent public defenders. The Post reported that "ethics experts say hiring lobbyists through the provision breaks with some of Trump’s ethics rules."

    April 5, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt asked to use vehicle siren during non-emergency, reassigned staffer who objected. Several weeks after taking his position as head of the EPA, Pruitt was stuck in D.C. traffic and asked to use his vehicle's lights and sirens to get to an official appointment more quickly, sources told CBS News. According to CBS, “The lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies. Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt's detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.”

    April 5, 2018, ABC News: EPA improperly paid for repair to Pruitt's condo door, congresswoman says. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s budget, took issue with the EPA using agency funds to repair a door in Pruitt’s condo after members of his security detail broke it down when they believed a napping Pruitt was unresponsive. “I know that Congress appropriates money for the EPA to protect human health and the environment – not for repairs to the administrator's residence,” McCollum wrote in a letter to the EPA.

    April 5, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt reassigned and demoted EPA officials who questioned his spending. Four career EPA employees and one Trump administration political appointee were demoted or reassigned after they confronted Pruitt and expressed concerns over his excessive spending on furniture, travel, and his security detail.

    April 5, 2018, Salon: Pruitt was involved in a questionable real estate deal while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. Documents obtained by the nonprofit watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that in 2011, Pruitt, then-attorney general of Oklahoma, and his wife flipped a Tulsa home for a $70,000 profit after buying it just days before a court ruled that it had been fraudulently transferred. Kevin Hern, a major campaign donor to Pruitt, bought the house through a dummy corporation. According to Salon, “Evidence suggests that Pruitt planned the quick turnaround on the property in advance.”

    April 5 and 6, 2018, Politico/Politico: Pruitt was late paying his rent and “overstayed his welcome” at the lobbyist-linked condo. Pruitt was sometimes slow in paying rent to his lobbyist landlords. He also stayed in the condo longer than initially agreed. The original $50-a-night rental agreement was supposed to be for just six weeks, but Pruitt ended up using the condo for about six months. Politico reported, “The couple, Vicki and Steve Hart, became so frustrated by their lingering tenant that they eventually pushed him out and changed their locks.”

    April 6 and 9, 2018, Wash. Post/The Atlantic: Doubts cast on Pruitt’s claim that he did not approve controversial pay raises. During an April 4 interview with Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, Pruitt claimed that he did not approve controversial pay raises for his aides Greenwalt and Hupp and had learned about the raises only when the media first reported on them. But on April 6, the Post reported that two EPA officials and a White House official “told The Post that the administrator instructed staff to award substantial pay boosts to both women.” Additionally, administration officials told The Atlantic that an email exchange between Greenwalt and EPA human resources “suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise.” The day after The Atlantic’s article came out, EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson took responsibility for the pay raises, issuing a statement reading, “Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me.”

    April 10, 2018, Wash. Post/Politico: EPA staffers questioned the justification for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, and one was then fired. Sens. Whitehouse and Carper sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee calling for a congressional inquiry into Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail. In their letter, the senators cited several internal EPA documents that questioned the rationale for Pruitt’s detail, highlighting in particular a February 14 assessment by the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security that concluded that the justification for Pruitt’s security detail (emphasis in original) “DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant ‘threat specific’ information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the Administrator.” Politico reported that one of the EPA career officials who drafted the assessment, Mario Caraballo, was removed from his post on April 10. On the same day, The New York Times also reported that the EPA “has been examining posts on Twitter and other social media about Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, to justify his extraordinary and costly security measures.” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times that the EPA may have violated federal law if the agency was aggressively monitoring Pruitt’s critics.

    April 10, 2018, HuffPost: As EPA head, Pruitt has met with dozens of his former campaign donors. An analysis conducted by the nonprofit MapLight found that Pruitt “has met with more than three dozen organizations that donated to his past campaigns and political committees in the last year,” HuffPost reported. “The donors include major oil and gas companies, electricity providers, coal producers, and conservative think tanks. At least 14 of the meetings were with organizations from Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as attorney general from 2011-16.”

    April 12, 2018, Politico Pro/Mother Jones: EPA staff were concerned about Pruitt’s misleading statements on emissions standards. Emails obtained by Greenpeace via the Freedom of Information Act showed that EPA experts were worried about Pruitt spreading “troubling” and “inaccurate” information in his justification for rolling back Obama-era auto emissions standards. Agency staffers pointed out multiple inaccuracies in Pruitt’s March 20 USA Today op-ed, including Pruitt’s claim that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards “have pushed manufacturing and jobs to Mexico” -- a claim contradicted by the EPA’s own analysis and many other reports. To support his argument, Pruitt cited an analysis written by an author with no background in CAFE from the now-defunct National Center for Policy Analysis.

    April 12, 2018, NY Times: Lawmakers demand information about Pruitt's travel habits and luxury hotel stays. Five Democratic lawmakers sent Pruitt a letter seeking documents related to additional spending abuses after their staff members met with Pruitt’s dismissed former chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski. According to the letter, Chmielewski revealed that Pruitt insisted on staying in luxury hotels priced above allowable limits and pressed for flights on airlines not listed on the government’s approved list so that he could earn more frequent flier miles. Chmielewski also told congressional investigators that Pruitt would direct staff to schedule trips for him to fly back home to Oklahoma and desired locations, telling them, “Find me something to do.”

    April 12, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt used four different email addresses at EPA. Pruitt has used four different email accounts during his time as EPA administrator, according to an agency official and a letter sent by Sens. Merkley and Carper to the EPA's inspector general. Pruitt’s use of multiple email accounts has prompted “concerns among agency lawyers that the EPA has not disclosed all the documents it would normally release to the public under federal records requests,” according to the Post. On April 17, the Post reported that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) will examine whether Pruitt is fully complying with public records requests.

    April 17, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt upgraded to larger vehicle with bulletproof seat covers. In June last year, Pruitt upgraded his official vehicle to a larger, more high-end Chevy Suburban equipped with bullet-resistant seat covers. Federal records show that the Suburban cost $10,200 to lease for the first year and that the lease included an extra $300 a month worth of additional upgrades.         

    April 18, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt faces multiple investigations into his ethics and use of taxpayer money. Pruitt is the subject of multiple investigations by the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the House Oversight Committee, a Times guide to Pruitt’s investigations revealed. The newest investigation, examining Pruitt’s use of his security detail during personal trips to the Rose Bowl, Disneyland, and basketball games, “brings the number of investigations into Mr. Pruitt’s use of taxpayer money and possible ethics violations to 10,” the Times reported.

    April 19, 2018, Reuters: EPA spent $45,000 to fly aides to Australia in advance of a Pruitt trip that was later canceled. Pruitt sent two aides and three security agents on business-class flights to Australia last August, at a cost of about $45,000, to do advance work for a trip the administrator planned to take, EPA officials told Reuters. The trip was canceled when Pruitt decided to travel instead to Texas to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It has not been rescheduled.

    April 21, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt’s partners in ethically questionable behavior in Oklahoma now work for him at EPA. New York Times reporters examined Pruitt’s career in Oklahoma and identified multiple instances of excessive spending and ethics lapses, noting that “many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.” The article focused on Pruitt's purchase of a lobbyist-owned home in Oklahoma City when Pruitt was a state senator. According to real estate and other public records, Pruitt purchased the home “at a steep discount of about $100,000” from its prior price through a shell company formed with his business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Pruitt did not disclose the house in his financial disclosure forms at the time, “a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules,” according to the Times. Years later, when he was the state's attorney general, Pruitt awarded more than $600,000 worth of state contracts to Wagner’s law firm from 2011 to 2017. Another business associate, Albert Kelly, led the bank that issued the mortgage for the home. After taking the reins at the EPA, Pruitt gave high-ranking positions within the agency to both Wagner and Kelly.

  • Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox more than twice as often as other major TV networks combined in his first year at EPA

    Fox News, meanwhile, largely ignored controversies about Pruitt’s extravagant travel

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In his first year as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as he did on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. During the same period, Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to controversies about Pruitt’s costly travel than the other major cable news outlets, CNN and MSNBC.

    Pruitt’s preference for appearing on Fox News is part of a wider trend that extends across the Trump administration, with Fox News serving as the go-to network for administration officials. Fox News’ habit of ignoring unflattering news about Pruitt is also in line with the network’s tendency to ignore negative stories about President Donald Trump and his administration.

    In first year as EPA head, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as on the other major networks combined

    Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News 16 times in his first year at EPA. A previous Media Matters study examining Pruitt’s first six months after taking office on February 17, 2017, found that he appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. He continued that trend in his second six months in office, making four more appearances on Fox and only one additional appearance on a non-Fox outlet, CBS. In total, during his first year, he appeared 16 times on Fox and only seven times on the other networks combined.

    Pruitt rarely faced tough questioning during his appearances on Fox, with the exception of two interviews by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. During most of Pruitt's Fox appearances, he advocated for and defended the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, though he also went on the network to defend his rollbacks of other Obama-era environmental protections.

    The Fox program he appeared on most often was Fox & Friends, a show that wields agenda-setting influence with the president. Here are all of Pruitt's Fox News appearances from his first year at the EPA:

    *The segment on Your World with Neil Cavuto on October 17 used footage from an interview Pruitt did earlier on the same day on the Fox Business Network program Cavuto: Coast to Coast.

    Pruitt made just seven appearances on the other major cable and broadcast TV networks combined. In his first year leading the EPA, Pruitt made only seven appearances total on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. In the majority of these, he defended U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, as he did during his Fox appearances. In other cases, he broadly discussed his agenda and priorities and defended rollbacks of environmental regulations.

    Here are Pruitt’s appearances on the major broadcast TV networks, CNN, and MSNBC during his first year:  

    • Two on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on March 26 and June 4.
    • One on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on February 28.
    • One on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on June 1.
    • One on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4.
    • One on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on June 6.
    • One on CBS Evening News on January 17.

    Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to Pruitt’s controversial use of taxpayer money than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 27, The Washington Post published an article about Pruitt taking “at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000.”

    The story received extensive mainstream media coverage, including on other cable news networks. During the week after the story broke, from September 27 to October 3, CNN and MSNBC aired 32 and 31 segments on the controversy, respectively, often mentioning other cabinet members' high travel expenses as well. But Fox News aired just seven segments about Pruitt’s costly charter and military flights. In one Fox segment, on the September 29 episode of Your World with Neil Cavuto, correspondent John Roberts stated, “Scott Pruitt took four, maybe five charter flights. Those were all approved by the EPA Office of Ethics, and he has come up with a full explanation for those. … It's my belief that the other departments, Interior, Treasury, EPA, whatever, are allowed to do those private flights, as long as they have pre-approval for that.”

    On February 11, 2018, The Washington Post again detailed Pruitt’s exorbitant spending in an article headlined “First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure.” The Post reported that Pruitt racked up $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs during one stretch in early June, and that figure did not include the additional travel costs for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail. CBS News reported two days later that Pruitt broke with a government policy that officials fly on U.S. airlines by traveling on the luxury Emirates airline on a return trip from Milan, Italy. The story gained further traction after the EPA changed its tune about whether Pruitt had a blanket waiver to travel first class and clarified what security threats justified Pruitt’s use of first-class travel.

    Yet in the week following the Post’s article, from February 11 to February 17, Fox News did not mention the renewed controversy over Pruitt's travel costs even once.* CNN and MSNBC, by contrast, aired four and eight segments on his travel, respectively.

    *Fox News did air two segments on the latest Pruitt travel controversy on the February 19 episode of Shepard Smith Reporting and the February 28 episode of Special Report with Bret Baier, but these segments were aired more than a week after the Post story and fell outside the one-year time frame of our study.  

    On business news networks, Pruitt appeared on Fox Business four times as often as on CNBC

    Pruitt’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network. On the cable business news channels, Pruitt again demonstrated a predilection for Fox, making eight appearances on Fox Business, while appearing only twice on competitor CNBC. Fox Business Network has exhibited strong pro-Trump leanings, as outlets including USA Today and Business Insider have reported.

    Here are Pruitt's appearances on Fox Business shows:

    Fox Business defended Pruitt by attacking a CNN report. After Pruitt gave numerous interviews to Fox Business, the network did Pruitt a favor. In October, it aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves Pruitt made to help a proposed mine in Alaska right after meeting with the CEO of the mining company pushing the project. The network aired four segments in two days that criticized CNN's story and defended the mine. On all four segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit the story, calling CNN's investigation a "smear," a "hit piece," and "dishonest reporting." (In January, Pruitt reversed his decision and reinstated restrictions on the mine project. Fox News did not report on this reversal.)

    Pruitt gave numerous interviews to right-wing radio programs and a variety of print outlets

    Pruitt frequently appeared on radio shows hosted by climate change deniers like Brian Kilmeade and Michael Savage. Media Matters' previous study on Pruitt's first six months in office found that he made half a dozen appearances on popular right-wing talk radio programs hosted by people who deny climate science. He continued that pattern in his second six months, making appearances on programs including The Rush Limbaugh Show (where he was interviewed by guest host and climate denier Mark Steyn), The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Savage Nation, The Brian Kilmeade Show, The David Webb Show, and Breitbart News Daily.

    Pruitt's print and online interviews included some mainstream outlets. While Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing outlets when doing TV and radio, he granted interviews to a wider variety of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and online publications. Some of those interviews were with conservative outlets, including National Review, The Daily Caller, and The Daily Signal. Some were with the business press, like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. And some were with prominent mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today, Reuters, and The New York Times podcast The Daily.  

    Still, overall, Pruitt heavily favors conservative media when trying to push out his talking points. As Mother Jones recently reported in an in-depth profile of Pruitt, the EPA under his direction "has mostly focused on spreading its message through the right-wing media, talking frequently to Fox News and conservative radio hosts while dismissing less favorable coverage as fake."

    Pruitt's preference for right-wing media is continuing into his second year at the EPA. In the 16 days since his one-year anniversary, he has given interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Daily Signal, and Fox News.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ Media to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA administrator on February 17, 2017, to February 17, 2018: “Pruitt,” “Pruett,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.

    We also used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Pruitt’s travel controversies from September 27 to October 3 and from February 11, 2018, to February 17, 2018. We did not count instances of networks airing White House briefings that discussed these controversies.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.

  • The 10 most ridiculous things media figures said about climate change and the environment in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    1. Breitbart’s James Delingpole claimed 400 new scientific papers show global warming is a myth.

    Numerous studies have found near-unanimous scientific agreement on human-caused climate change, with perhaps the most well-known study on the matter finding that 97 percent of scientific papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agree that humans are behind it. And this year, a review of the 3 percent of papers that deny climate change found that they were all flawed. Nonetheless, Breitbart writer Delingpole claimed that 400 scientific papers published this year demonstrated that climate change is a “myth,” basing his article on a post on the denialist blog No Tricks Zone.The fact-checking website Snopes roundly debunked Delingpole’s article, giving it a “False” verdict after speaking with authors of some of the cited papers who said their work was grossly misinterpreted or misrepresented.

    2. The Daily Mail claimed government researchers “duped” world leaders with "manipulated global warming data."

    Daily Mail reporter David Rose alleged that climate scientists "rushed" to publish an "exaggerated" paper in an attempt to convince leaders to support the Paris agreement and spend billions to fight climate change. Rose, who has written his fair share of climate misinformation for the Mail, based his story on an “exclusive interview” with and a blog post by retired U.S. government scientist John Bates. The error-ridden article quickly made its way around right-wing media in outlets such as The Daily Caller, National Review, and Breitbart, and was even promoted by GOP members of the House science committee, including its chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The story’s claims also received “at least 752,300 shares, likes, comments, or other interactions on social media,” according to a Buzzfeed analysis. But the claims in the article were widely discredited by climate scientists, including Bates’ former colleagues and even Bates himself. The errors in the Mail’s article were so significant that the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., issued a ruling that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Daily Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand.

    3. Radio host Rush Limbaugh said he was "leery" of hurricane forecasts because they advance a "climate change agenda."

    As Hurricane Irma barrelled toward Florida, Limbaugh spun conspiracy theories and told his listeners that hurricane warnings are part of a scheme to benefit retailers, the media, and people like Al Gore who want to "advance this climate change agenda." Notably, Limbaugh didn’t have any skepticism about the danger Irma posed when it came to his own well-being, as he fled from his Florida home to Los Angeles before Irma made landfall. It's not the first time Limbaugh has spouted irresponsible conspiracy theories about hurricane forecasts. He was criticized last year for doing the same thing during Hurricane Matthew, earning himself a spot on the 2016 edition of this list.

    4. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued that because political operatives were wrong in predicting Hillary Clinton would win the election, people should be skeptical of climate science.

    After Trump’s election, The New York Times launched an ad campaign billing itself as the antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.” Shortly after that campaign, though, the Times hired Stephens as a columnist -- a serial misinformer who had called climate change a “sick-souled religion” during his time at The Wall Street Journal. In his inaugural column for the Times, Stephens encouraged skepticism of climate scientists and compared those who advocate climate action to Cold War-era authoritarians. Stephens’ column was short on actual facts and science; the one time he cited a scientific report, he got it wrong. The Times added a correction to the column, but numerous scientists pointed out that the correction wasn’t sufficient, and a number of scientists canceled their subscriptions over Stephens’ hiring, his problematic column, and the Times public editor’s dismissive defense of Stephens’ column. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt later cited Stephens' column to defend the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.

    5. Conservative media commentator Stephen Moore claimed that Trump created tens of thousands of coal jobs in the first few months of his presidency.

    Experts and journalists have repeatedly noted that President Donald Trump's campaign promise to bring back coal jobs is an empty one, since the decades-long decline in coal mining jobs has been driven much more by economic forces, such as increased automation and competition from natural gas and renewables, than by government regulations. But that didn’t stop Moore, a frequent Fox and CNN commentator and former Trump economic advisor, from proclaiming in op-eds in The Washington Times and Breitbart that Trump had already made good on his promise after just a few months in office. Moore cited jobs reports from March and April to claim that Trump had added tens of thousands of mining jobs, thereby restoring the coal industry. But Moore grossly misrepresented the data he cited, which actually included jobs in a number of sectors like oil and gas. Had Moore bothered to look at the actual coal mining jobs category, he would have seen that it had only grown by approximately 200 jobs through April, barely moving since Election Day.

    6. Radio host Hugh Hewitt recommended appointing Rush Limbaugh to a national commission to study climate change.

    In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hewitt proposed creating a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” But Hewitt’s proposal instantly lost all credibility when he suggested including Rush Limbaugh as one of the commission members. Limbaugh has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, promoted dangerous climate-related conspiracy theories, misrepresented research in an attempt to dispute that global warming is happening, and even criticized a TV show for portraying climate change as a reality.

    7. Fox hosts attacked a journalist and called him "stupid" for asking a Trump official about the links between hurricanes and climate change.

    2017 was a record year for hurricanes, as Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc along their respective paths. A number of climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes. While CNN and MSNBC frequently aired segments discussing the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, Fox News hosts almost exclusively covered the climate change-hurricane link by criticizing others who raised the issue. The September 11 episode of Fox's The Five, for example, featured a lengthy discussion in which hosts criticized CNN's Jim Acosta for asking Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert whether there's a link between climate change and powerful hurricanes. The hosts said that Acosta was “anti-science” and looked “stupid” and “dumb,” and they called his question was "politically opportunistic." Fox's Jesse Watters said concern about climate change stems from liberal “guilt” and a desire to control people’s lives. Likewise, on the radio show Breitbart News Daily, host Alex Marlow pushed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to deny the link between climate change and hurricanes, which Pruitt did, stating, “For opportunistic media to use events like this to, without basis or support, just to simply engage in a cause-and-effect type of discussion, and not focus upon the needs of people, I think is misplaced."

    8. Rush Limbaugh argued that the historic BP oil spill caused no environmental damage.

    Limbaugh cited an article in the right-wing Daily Caller headlined “Bacteria Are Eating Most Of The 2010 BP Oil Spill” and concluded, “The BP spill didn’t do any environmental [damage].” The Deepwater Horizon spill, which leaked oil for 87 days, was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in world history. Researchers have documented a wide array of negative environmental impacts from the disaster. For example, a 2016 study found that the BP spill may have caused irreversible damage to one of the Gulf shore’s most important ecosystems. The spill is believed to have killed tens of thousands animals in 2010, and for years afterward, dolphins and other animals in the area continued to die at higher-than-normal rates.

    9. Fox News’ Jesse Watters claimed, “No one is dying from climate change.”

    During a discussion about Al Gore’s warnings on climate change, Watters, a co-host of Fox News’ The Five, declared, “People are dying from terrorism. No one is dying from climate change.” Rush Limbaugh also made the same assertion this year. But an independent report commissioned by 20 governments in 2012 concluded that climate change already kills more people than terrorism, with an estimated 400,000 deaths linked to climate change each year.

    10. Radio host Alex Jones said it was "suspicious" that Hurricane Irma came along shortly before the release of a climate disaster movie.

    Jones briefly speculated about the possibility that Hurricane Irma was “geoengineered” or created by humans before stating, “Meanwhile, though, right on time with these superstorms, we have the new film Geoengineering (sic) 2017, coming soon on October 20. Oh, just a little bit more than a month or so after Irma is set to hit. Isn’t that just perfect timing? Like all these race war films they’ve been putting out. This is starting to get suspicious. Here it is, Geostorm.” The action movie Geostorm featured satellites that controlled the global climate. Jones' speculation about the film is just one of the countless conspiracy theories he has promoted over the years.

  • Pruitt’s war on the press continues as EPA hires firm to create media-tracking "war room"

    Mother Jones reports on EPA’s contract with a Republican firm that specializes in oppo research

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    While Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt enjoys being feted by conservative and alt-right media outlets such as Fox and Friends and Breitbart.com, he and his top aides at EPA are openly hostile toward other journalists. An investigative report published by Mother Jones demonstrates just how committed Pruitt is to waging and winning his war against the press.

    Reporters Rebecca Leber, Andy Kroll, and Russ Choma write about the EPA hiring a GOP-linked public relations firm, Definers Corp., to track and influence media coverage of the agency. From their December 15 article:

    According to federal contracting records, earlier this month Pruitt’s office inked a no-bid $120,000 contract with Definers Corp., a Virginia-based public relations firm founded by Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Following Romney’s defeat, Rhoades established America Rising, an ostensibly independent political action committee that works closely with the Republican National Committee and Republican candidates to mine damning information on opponents. Other higher-ups at Definers include former RNC research director Joe Pounder, who’s been described as “a master of opposition research,” and senior vice president Colin Reed, an oppo-research guru billed as “among the leaders of the war on [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren.”

    The PR firm will equip the EPA with sophisticated “war room”-style media technology, the story reports:

    The company also specializes in using the press and social media to “validate your narrative.” According to the company’s website, one of the tools to help do this is its “Definers Console” media-tracking technology. Reed said his firm contracted with Pruitt’s office at the EPA, which is the first governmental client to pay for the Definers Console. The technology promises “war room”-style media monitoring, analysis, and advice, according to marketing materials. A brochure for the Console assures users that they will be able to “monitor for potential crises, as well as to track their message dissemination, relevant responses to their messaging, and what competitors’ actions have been.”

    Media Matters has previously reported on Trump officials’ tendency to appear on far-right and right-wing outlets and stations. Pruitt has been a key player in this trend; during his first six months at the EPA, he gave more interviews to Fox News than to all other major television networks combined.

    At the same time, Pruitt’s EPA has publicly displayed hostility toward reporters at mainstream outlets. In late October, New York Times reporter Eric Lipton asked for comment on a story about the agency’s decision to make it harder to track the health consequences of certain industrial chemicals. EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman emailed this response: “No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece. The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

    In September, Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker co-wrote a story about flooded toxic waste sites in Houston. The EPA then made the unprecedented move of criticizing the reporter by name in a press release:  “Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story.”

    Pruitt's EPA has also barred reporters from events, dropped them from press release distribution lists, and refused to give them his schedule.

    Pruitt’s decision to hire Definers Corp. again demonstrates his willingness to go all-in on the Trump administration’s larger campaign to manipulate and undermine the free press.

    The backing of this high-tech media firm will empower Pruitt to continue rebuffing basic public transparency, spinning the consequences of his deregulatory agenda, and muddying his climate science denial. The press will need to be ever vigilant, even while it's under attack.

  • Fox Business ran defense for Scott Pruitt by baselessly attacking a CNN investigation

    CNN reported on the EPA chief helping a mining company. Fox Business Network didn't like that at all.

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Fox Business Network has aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves made by Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt that will help a proposed mining project in Alaska. The network aired four segments last week that criticized CNN's story.

    In an October 10 report aired on Anderson Cooper 360°, CNN correspondent Drew Griffin noted that Pruitt met on May 1 with the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, a Canadian-owned company proposing to build a gold and copper mine in southwest Alaska that could threaten a major salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. Just over an hour after that meeting that took place, CNN discovered, Pruitt ordered his staff to withdraw proposed protections for Bristol Bay that had been put forward by the Obama administration, potentially clearing the way for the controversial Pebble Mine to go forward. Also on that same day, Pruitt agreed to settle a lawsuit that the mining company had filed against the EPA, according to CNN.

    On October 18 and 19, Fox Business Network ran four separate interviews that bashed CNN's report, one with the Pebble Limited Partnership's CEO and three with John Stossel, a Fox commentator. Here are the segments:

    • one: on Varney & Co. on October 18, host Stuart Varney interviewed Stossel;
    • two: also on Varney & Co. on October 18, Varney interviewed Pebble CEO Tom Collier;
    • three: on After the Bell on October 18, host David Asman interviewed Stossel;
    • four: on Kennedy on October 19, host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery interviewed Stossel.

    Stossel also slammed CNN's report in a written piece published on the Fox News website on October 18 and in a video posted on October 13 on Reason.com, which is run by the libertarian Reason Foundation. Stossel currently works for the Reason Foundation, which gets funding from the Koch brothers. Stossel also works for the Charles Koch Institute's Media and Journalism Fellowship program. Foundations affiliated with the Koch brothers have funded the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which in 2013 ran a campaign in support of the Pebble Mine.

    On all four Fox Business Network segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit CNN. They repeatedly called CNN's investigation a "smear," and in two of the segments the words "CNN smear" appeared on the screen. Varney derided CNN as the "Clinton News Network," called CNN's report "a hit piece," and said to Collier, "They set you up." Stossel accused CNN of bias: "I don't think they're particularly biased against Pruitt; they're biased against the Trump administration and business." Montgomery said, "It is dishonest reporting."

    With these comments, the Fox Business personalities were echoing President Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on CNN. Trump has called it the “Clinton News Network,” accused it of being “dishonest,” and even tweeted a video of himself attacking a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head.

    The Fox Business Network has a friendly relationship with Pruitt. The EPA chief has made seven appearances on the network since he took office in February, most recently on October 17.

    The network also has a friendly relationship with Trump. Trump has given two exclusive interviews to Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo, one that aired on April 12 and another on October 23. Trump has mentioned or retweeted Fox Business or its hosts at least half a dozen times since becoming president, and never in a negative light. And the White House has linked at least eight times to Fox Business Network articles from the daily news roundup it posts on its website, previously called "1600 Daily" and now named "West Wing Reads."

    As USA Today reported on October 13, the Fox Business Network has been doing well "amid the ascension of Donald Trump into the White House." The article continued, "To some, the network's gains have come by playing a game similar to that of fellow channel Fox News, hitching its star to candidate and now-President Trump and ignoring news that would hurt the president," though it observed that some of the network's hosts have criticized Trump recently. An October 17 story in Business Insider made similar points, noting the network's "lineup of right-leaning programming and embrace of President Donald Trump's economic and cultural vision." Business Insider found that Fox Business Network used phrases like "liberal media" and "left-wing media" as often as Fox News did.

    So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Fox Business Network went to bat for Pruitt and attacked CNN for its report on Pebble Mine.

    But all four segments Fox Business aired on the Pebble Mine contained errors in fact, as outlined below.

    Fox Business Network got its facts wrong

    False: Salmon are nowhere near the proposed mine site.

    "This mine is 100 miles from those salmon," Stossel said on Kennedy. "The fish are nowhere near where the mine is anyway," Asman said on After the Bell. Collier and other Fox Business personalities also noted that the site is at least "100 miles" from Bristol Bay.

    True: The proposed mine site sits right within salmon habitat.

    While the proposed mine site is more than 100 miles from Bristol Bay, it's entirely false to say that the mine site is 100 miles away from the salmon. The mine site is in a wetland area right in the middle of salmon habitat. Salmon not only inhabit Bristol Bay but migrate through and spawn in the rivers and tributaries that feed into the bay. As the EPA noted in a 2014 assessment of the potential impacts a mine could have in the area, "the Pebble deposit is located in the headwaters of tributaries to both the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers," and, "Approximately half of Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon production is from the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds."

    Damaging the salmon's habitat or Bristol Bay's watershed, even many miles from the bay itself, could have major impacts on the fishery. The EPA determined that the Pebble Mine could cause "irreversible" habitat loss because of "the extent of streams, wetlands, lakes, and ponds both overlying the Pebble deposit and within adjacent watersheds."

    Bristol Bay is home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, producing 46 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon, generating an estimated $1.5 billion in economic activity a year, and supporting more than 14,000 jobs. The salmon also play a central role in sustaining the cultures of local Native Alaskan tribes that stretch back at least 4,000 years.

    False: The Obama administration completely blocked the Pebble Mine.

    During his first segment, Varney said, "This was the EPA under President Obama saying no, before you even think about submitting a plan, don't do it because you’re not going to get it." In the second segment, Varney said the mine project "was rejected, out of hand, right from the get-go" by Obama's EPA. Collier agreed, saying, "Obama wouldn't even let us file a permit application." Stossel then claimed during the third segment, "they didn't even let the guy submit a proposal."

    True: The Obama administration did not block the mining company from filing a permit application.

    In 2014, the Obama EPA proposed environmental standards that a mine tapping the Pebble deposit would have to meet, after the agency conducted a three-year, peer-reviewed scientific assessment that found a large-scale mine would pose serious threats to the Bristol Bay fishery. The EPA has the authority under the Clean Water Act to restrict projects like proposed mines that would threaten water quality in Bristol Bay.

    But the Obama EPA did not block the mining company from submitting a proposal or permit application for Pebble Mine. If a mine proposal met the restrictions EPA laid out for the Bristol Bay area, it would be able to move forward in the process, as EPA made clear when it proposed the restrictions in 2014: "Proposals to mine the Pebble deposit that have impacts below each of these restrictions would proceed to the Section 404 permitting process," the agency wrote.

    Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm that has worked to prevent Pebble Mine, explains further:

    EPA proposed to ban, not the Pebble Mine itself, but the unacceptable habitat loss from any proposed mine.

    [...]

    Any version of the Pebble Mine which would not cause the habitat loss EPA proposed to ban could proceed to the ordinary permitting process.

    In other words, the agency proposed reasonable, tailored restrictions necessary to protect the Bristol Bay ecosystem and fisheries.

    [...]

    If the Pebble Mine can be built without causing those impacts, the EPA’s protective action is no obstacle to it.

    As The New York Times reported in May of this year, the Obama EPA's process "concluded with the determination that the mine, as planned, would risk the long-term health of the ecosystem, but it did not wholly block the granting of a permit."

    It's worth noting that the mining company had been promising to file a permit application and release its plans since 2004, during the George W. Bush administration, but it never carried through. In 2013, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was so frustrated by the delay that she wrote a letter chastising the company for "failure to describe the project and submit permit applications," noting that "years of waiting" had fed "anxiety, frustration and confusion" in local communities.

    False: The Obama EPA's decision was driven by "collusion" with "rich green lawyers" and environmental groups that have no scientific expertise.

    Stossel and Fox Business hosts repeatedly characterized the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental organization that has opposed the Pebble Mine, as a "rich" group that had been "colluding" with Obama's EPA. "NRDC is not scientists, it's mostly lawyers," Stossel added. Varney referred to "rich green lawyers driving this train."

    True: The Obama EPA's decision was based on a transparent multi-year scientific process.

    Under Obama, the EPA spent three years conducting an extensive scientific assessment to determine the potential impacts on the Bristol Bay fishery of a large-scale mine to tap the Pebble deposit. The review went through two drafts, two rounds of peer review, and a public comment period. The EPA's decision to propose restrictions on a mining development in the area was based on this in-depth review. Pruitt's move to withdraw those restrictions, in contrast, was made without consulting EPA's scientific staff. As CNN reported, "according to multiple sources, he made that decision without a briefing from any of EPA's scientists or experts."

    Varney talked about "rich green lawyers driving this train," but opposition to the mine has been led by locals and Alaskans. According to the EPA website, the agency "initiated this assessment in response to petitions from nine federally recognized tribes and other stakeholders who asked us to take action to protect Bristol Bay’s salmon populations." And it's not just tribes who are opposed: 62 percent of likely Alaskan voters opposed the Pebble Mine in a 2014 poll, and 85 percent of commercial fishers in the Bristol Bay area opposed it in a 2011 poll. State leaders are not fans of the mine either, as The New Yorker reported in July of this year: "Governor Bill Walker, an independent, has spoken out against the mine, and the G.O.P.-dominated state legislature has grown increasingly skeptical—a particularly important development, since a 2014 ballot measure, supported by two-thirds of voters, gave it veto power over any mine proposal in Bristol Bay."

    NRDC -- which has been active in opposing the mine project, working in tandem with local communities -- does have lawyers on staff, but it also has a Science Center and employs at least 60 scientists who have PhDs or master's degrees in their fields.

    False: The Pebble Mine is an energy project.

    Host Montgomery misrepresented the proposed mine as an energy project, talking about the importance of "extracting the energy" from Alaska and wondering whether environmentalists "want us to rely on Saudi Arabia forever."

    True: The Pebble Mine would extract minerals including gold and copper.

    The mining project proposed by the Pebble Limited Partnership would extract copper, gold and molybdenum, not oil, gas, or coal. Stossel did not correct Montgomery’s apparent misunderstanding, but instead joined in to bash the environmentalists who want people to rely on "magical wind power and solar power."

  • California newspaper editorials connect the dots between climate change and wildfires

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit the U.S. earlier this year, conservatives including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and Fox News personalities argued that it wasn’t the right time to talk about climate change. But a number of local leaders and journalists in the storm-hit states of Texas and Florida disagreed. They called for attention to the fact that climate change is making disasters worse, even as they worked to address and report on the immediate needs of their affected communities.

    Now many political leaders and newspapers in California are following the lead of those in Texas and Florida -- demanding that we recognize the threat of climate change and how it’s exacerbating weather events like the wildfires that have been blazing through parts of Northern California for the last week and a half, the most deadly and destructive fires in the state’s history.

    Many scientists have pointed to climate change as a significant factor that’s intensifying fires like those in California. Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams, who co-authored a study last year that found climate change was markedly worsening wildfires in the American West, talked to McClatchy about the California fires last week: “The fingerprint is definitely there,” Williams said. “The connection between temperatures and fire is one we see again and again in the correlation analyses we do.”

    California Gov. Jerry Brown emphasized the connection last week: “With a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture, these kinds of catastrophes have happened and will continue to happen,” he said.

    And five of California’s biggest papers have published editorials clearly connecting the dots between this year’s out-of-control wildfire season and climate change.

    The Los Angeles Times, the largest newspaper in California, published an editorial on October 12 explaining how the fires fit into a broader pattern of weather disasters that scientists have been telling us to expect as the world warms:

    When this is over, it may well be the state’s worst fire catastrophe in recorded history by any measure.

    This is not just bad luck. Coming on the heels of other large-scale natural disasters — Houston inundated by a slow-moving tropical storm, swaths of Florida and the Caribbean ripped to shreds by a monster hurricane, much of Puerto Rico leveled by an equally powerful hurricane, a handful of Western states swept by massive fires that burned up millions of acres — one can’t help but see a disturbing pattern emerge. Those superstorms that scientists warned would result from climate change? They are here. The day of reckoning isn’t in the future. It is now.

    The Sacramento Bee made similar points in a strong October 10 editorial and put the heat on President Trump for ignoring climate change:

    Puerto Rico is in ruins. Thousands are displaced in Houston. The Gulf Coast is bracing for a fresh round of hurricanes.

    Now, epic wildfires are incinerating California.

    [...]

    Climate change is doing what scientists predicted — amplifying storms and lengthening wildfire seasons. … If it wasn’t clear last year — or the year before, or the year before that — it is obvious now that a new normal is at hand.

    Given that, it’s ironic, if not delusional, that the Trump administration would pick this, of all weeks, to move to repeal Obama-era limits on greenhouse gases, which drive global warming.

    The San Francisco Chronicle, The Mercury News (San Jose), and The San Diego Union-Tribune all published editorials arguing that governments need to be better prepared to fight wildfires, in part because climate change is making fires more of a danger.

    Of the six largest-circulation California newspapers that publish editorials, only The Orange County Register -- whose editorial board has a record of climate denial -- failed to make mention of climate change in its editorial about the ongoing fires.

    Editorial boards beyond California are picking up the thread as well. The Miami Herald, a major paper in a state recently hit by Hurricane Irma, made note of wildfires in an editorial last week that criticized President Trump’s reversal of the Clean Power Plan, a key Obama-era policy to fight climate change: “Ironically, the repeal is being announced at a time when the impact of climate change is too powerful to deny — in hurricanes of unprecedented frequency and power, in increasing droughts, in expanded wildfires.” The Washington Post and The New York Times ran editorials last week making similar points.

    Papers in disaster-afflicted areas are right to explain the connections between climate change and extreme weather. They have a responsibility not just to report on-the-ground happenings, but to put critical events in context -- especially in their editorials.

    Newspapers and networks with national audiences should do the same, following the lead of The Washington Post and The New York Times. The U.S. has suffered through a stunning string of disasters in recent months, exactly the kinds of extreme weather events that scientists have said we'll see more of as the climate continues to heat up. Media outlets have a duty to explain that climate change is driving some of the damage and will drive far more in the future if we don't curb our greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare our communities for disasters.

    This job is all the more important given that we have a president who not only denies basic climate science, but fails to take many disasters seriously. Trump has shown callous disregard for hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, and he has almost entirely ignored the California wildfires. He hadn't even tweeted about the fires until today, 10 days after they started. Major media outlets need to step in and help fill that void.

    -----

    This post was updated to reflect the fact that President Trump tweeted about the wildfires on October 18.

  • Trump's repeal of the Clean Power Plan will cost lives, but TV news outlets are covering it as a political football

    Ditching limits on power plant emissions will lead to an estimated 3,600 more premature deaths each year

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A number of TV news outlets failed to cover the negative health impacts of the Trump administration's decision to repeal limits on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Of the major broadcast networks' morning and evening news shows, only ABC's World News Tonight mentioned how Americans' health could be affected by the move. On the major cable news networks, CNN overlooked the health angle and MSNBC addressed it in some segments, while most Fox News commentators discussed the repeal in approving or celebratory tones.

    Trump's repeal of the Clean Power Plan will have major health impacts

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that he would formally move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and on Tuesday he signed a proposed rule to get the process rolling. The Clean Power Plan was put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, imposing the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

    Pruitt's move will have serious, real-world impacts on Americans' health. According to Obama's EPA, not only would the Clean Power Plan have helped to fight climate change, but it would also have curbed a number of health problems and premature deaths. That's because when utilities reduce their emissions of climate-warming CO2 pollution, they also reduce other pollutants that cause soot and smog and directly harm human health. An EPA fact sheet from 2015 says the agency determined that the rule would prevent thousands of deaths and health-related problems each year:

    • 3,600 premature deaths
    • 1,700 heart attacks
    • 90,000 asthma attacks
    • 300,000 missed work days and school days

    Under Pruitt, however, those health improvements will be denied to Americans. Pruitt's EPA not only disputes the scientific agreement that humans are driving climate change; it also disputes the scientific agreement that particulate matter and other smog-forming pollutants are unsafe for humans at any level. The EPA's new proposed rule contends that there would be no health benefits to reducing air pollutants below levels currently required by Clean Air Act regulations.

    Pruitt's repeal will be particularly harmful to people of color and low-income Americans, as they suffer more than whiter, wealthier communities do from coal plant pollution. The Clean Power Plan included a number of environmental-justice provisions intended to help redress that inequity.

    Among major broadcast networks, only ABC mentioned the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan, while CBS and NBC ignored them

    Media Matters analyzed morning and nighttime news shows on October 9 and 10 on ABC, CBS, and NBC, plus PBS NewsHour. ABC was the sole corporate broadcast network to note the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan in coverage of the plan’s repeal, and it did so in only a brief mention. During a headline rundown on the October 9 episode of World News Tonight with David Muir, Muir reported, “The 2015 Clean Power Plan aimed to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent and save 3,600 lives a year.”

    In contrast, neither CBS nor NBC made any reference to what the repeal would mean for public health. NBC covered the repeal once, on the October 10 episode of NBC Nightly News, while CBS covered it twice, on the October 9 episode of CBS Evening News and the October 10 episode of CBS This Morning.

    PBS NewsHour briefly mentioned the health angle during a lengthy segment on the plan's repeal on October 10 that featured interviews with Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama, and coal company CEO Robert Murray. PBS correspondent John Yang did not bring up the health implications of the repeal, but McCarthy mentioned them when she said that Pruitt's move “will limit the kind of protections you will get for public health and take a significant bite out of our ability to address climate change and keep our kids’ future safe.”

    MSNBC reported on the health impacts of the Clean Power Plan repeal three times, while CNN did not mention them at all

    Of the major cable networks, MSNBC provided the best TV news coverage of the health implications of the Clean Power Plan repeal. Media Matters analyzed cable news from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on October 9 and October 10 and found that MSNBC aired eight segments on the repeal, three of which mentioned human health. On the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, NBC correspondent Anne Thompson explained that “doctors are very concerned, because if you increase the amount of coal-fired power, that means you’re putting more particulates in the air, and if that happens, that means you’re going to see more asthma attacks, more days missed in school and work from various illnesses, and more premature deaths.” Another October 10 edition of MSNBC Live featured an interview with Laura Kellogg, an American Lung Association volunteer and mother of children with asthma, who discussed how the plan’s repeal would harm children living close to coal plants. And the same day on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Melvin asked guest Mustafa Ali, former head of EPA's environmental justice program, about the health impacts of the repeal and gave Ali a chance to discuss the premature deaths and asthma attacks that are expected to result.

    (The remaining five MSNBC segments on the plan's repeal, which didn't mention its public health consequences, aired on the October 9 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, the October 10 edition of MTP Daily, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live, and the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, which featured two segments on the repeal.)

    CNN, on the other hand, did not discuss the health effects during any of its four segments that mentioned the Clean Power Plan repeal on October 9 and 10. Two of those segments aired on New Day on October 10, while one ran on Inside Politics on October 10 and one on At This Hour on October 9.

    Much of Fox News' coverage praised the repeal, but two segments did mention health effects

    Fox News aired seven segments covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and made four additional mentions while reading headlines. Much of the tone of Fox’s coverage was celebratory. Twice on the October 9 edition of Fox & Friends and once on the October 10 edition of the show, Jillian Mele presented the repeal as President Donald Trump delivering on a campaign promise to his base. On October 10, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade introduced an interview with a former coal worker by saying, “Yesterday the Trump administration kept another campaign promise because Hillary Clinton didn't win, even though no one told her yet, to end the war on coal and help American families.” Sandra Smith also covered the repeal as Trump keeping a campaign promise on the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom, and the next day she asked Fox contributor Karl Rove whether it can “be seen as a big win for this administration.” Rove responded, "Well, it’s a big win,” adding that Trump needed legislative victories as well.

    Special Report was the outlier on Fox News, citing information on health effects of the repeal in two segments. During the show’s October 9 report, correspondent Griff Jenkins read a quote from the Sierra Club noting that the Clean Power Plan would “prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year.” And on October 10, during an interview with Pruitt, host Bret Baier read a statement from former EPA Administrator Carol Browner that noted the health impacts of the move and asked Pruitt to respond to the statement.

    (The additional Fox News segments and mentions on the repeal were on the October 9 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum and the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom during the 9 a.m. hour and the 10 a.m. hour.)

    The media failed to adequately report on the Clean Power Plan in past years too

    When the Obama administration finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015, many mainstream media outlets neglected to cover the public health implications, as Media Matters noted at the time.

    Coverage of the Clean Power Plan was even more lacking last year. Then-candidate Trump promised to repeal the Clean Power Plan during his campaign, but broadcast news programs gave little attention to that pledge or to the plan itself last year, Media Matters found in an analysis of 2016 coverage. Ultimately, broadcast news failed to adequately inform viewers and voters before the election about what a Trump presidency would mean for environmental policy. Now we're seeing the Trump administration working to roll back more than 50 environmental protections.

    TV news outlets’ shortcomings this week in covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan are just part of a longer pattern of insufficient coverage.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Pruitt,” “Clean Power Plan," "EPA," "Environmental Protection Agency," "carbon," "emissions," "regulation,” and "rule.” We examined coverage on October 9, the day Pruitt announced his intention to repeal the rule, and October 10, the day he formally proposed the repeal. For broadcast networks, we examined the morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour. For cable news, we examined coverage from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

    Zachary Pleat contributed to this report.